black-headed gull

black-headed gull defined in 1930 year

black-headed gull - Black-headed Gull;
black-headed gull - Bill and feet red; head and upper part of the neck blackish brown; mantle grey; all the rest, white; the under parts tinged with pink. The black on the head is lost in winter. Length, sixteen inches.

The black-headed gull, if not the most abundant of its genus, is without doubt the most generally known, on account of its wide diffusion in the country, and of its habit of breeding in inland marshes. It remains throughout the year, most of the time frequenting the flat parts of the sea-coast, estuaries, and tidal rivers, where it is seen perpetually roaming up and down in search of the small fishes and crustaceans on which it feeds, and any dead animal matter cast up by the tide. In its winter dress it is almost impossible to tell this species from the common gull and kittiwake when they are seen together, as in size they are nearly alike, and the buoyant, leisurely flight and circling motions in the air are the same in all. But very early in spring the distinguishing mark and nuptial ornament of a black hood is assumed, after which there can be no mistake. And here I may remark that I differ from Howard Saunders when he says that, as the hood is not black, the bird should be called the brown-headed gull. Vernacular names of this kind are descriptive of the creatures as they appear to us when seen living in a state of nature; and at a distance of twenty or thirty yards, which is as close as a flying gull will come to a man, the hood certainly appears to be black.

In March the gulls withdraw to marshes and meres to breed. The breeding-place is usually in the neighbourhood of the sea, sometimes in an inland district. Year after year the same spot is resorted to, and it is known that some of the gulleries in this country have existed for centuries. One of the largest and best known in England is at Scoulton Mere, in Norfolk. Half a century ago 20,000 birds annually bred at this spot, but the colony has now diminished to less than half that number. A favourite site for the gullery is an island in a mere or swamp, and the nests are placed both on the ground and on clumps of rushes or tussocks of grass. Three or four eggs are laid, varying in ground-colour from olive- brown to pale green, blue, or salmon, blotched with black and dark brown. During the breeding season the birds seek their food over the surrounding country in marshes, meadow-lands, and fields that are being ploughed. Seebohm says: ' So easily do they adapt themselves to changed circumstances, that they have already become used to the steam-plough. It is a very pretty sight to watch a party of these little gulls, looking snow-white in the distance against the rich brown of the newly turned-up soil, paddling amongst the clumsy clods with dainty, red-webbed feet, and continually lifting their white wings to balance themselves on the rough ground, reminding one of a group of angels by Gustave Doré.' One suspects that Doré, being, like other artists, incapable of imagining the unimaginable, made use of gulls and such like as models for his angels.

This gull, like most of the Laridae, is a vociferous bird, and his notes - short and rapid, like excited exclamations, or drawn out, guttural in tone, and inflected in various ways - often sound like laughter; hence the name of laughing gull, sometimes given to this species, and the specific name of ridibundus. To my ear it is like the guttural and extravagant laughter of the negro, rather than that of the white man.

Besides the six species described, there are six others, belonging to the sub-family Larinae (true gulls), which figure in the books as British species. One of these (the second on the list) is perhaps a regular visitor.

Ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea). - A circumpolar species; occasionally straggles to the British coasts.

Glaucous gull (Larus glaucus). - Circumpolar in its range; a winter visitor to the northern parts of the United Kingdom.

Iceland gull (L. leucopterus). - A rare winter visitor (to the north) from the arctic regions.

Great black-headed gull (L. iclithyaëtus). - A single specimen of this southern species was obtained many years ago in this country.

Little gull (L. minutu8). - An irregular visitor from continental Europe.

Sabine's gull (Xema sabiniî). - A rare straggler from North Amorica.

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