Friday, November 13, 2009

Possible Baltic Gull in Newfoundland

The Baltic Gull - Larus fuscus fuscus is the nominate subspecies of the Lesser Black-backed Gull. Its occurence has never been officially recorded in North America. It is restricted to the Baltic Sea region and winters in east Africa. It is quite a different animal than the gracilis/intermedius subspecies that we are used to seeing in North America. First of all it is a 3 year gull (attains adult plumage in its 3rd year) as opposed to the usual 4 years that is the standard in most large gulls (notably excluding Yellow-footed Gull) including the other subspecies of Larus fuscus.

Olsen &  Larsson describe the structural differences- "compared to Lesser Black-backed Gull race gracilis/intermedius, it is a more elegant looking bird with a smallish-looking head, slender bill and more attenuated rear with very long primary projection beyond tail. The legs are rather short." It is significantly different in plumage with "velvety black upper parts with little or no contrast with the primaries with only narrow white tips soon reduced with wear. Adult winter birds have a white head or just fine streaks around the eyes and on hindneck."

On January 14/2007 I had the good fortune of accompanying Bruce Mactavish, Jared Clarke, Jean Iron and Ron Pittaway to the St. John's Landfill. This is mecca for larophiles. Thousands of large gulls spend ther day here during the winter with such rarities as Slaty-backed and Yellow-legged Gull being regular over the last few years. Other rarities such as Common Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull showing up on occasion with the 1000s of Great Black-baked, Glaucous and Herring Gulls along with a smattering of  Lesser Black-backed, Kumlien's and hybrid Gulls.

          Great Black-backed Gull                  Possible Baltic Gull

It is quite a large area and at one point the group seperated into two. On meeting back up Jean told me they had seen and photographed an adult Common Gull back on the other side of the Landfill. I decided to head over to see if I could relocate the bird. On my return I spotted a very unusual smallish jet black-backed gull sitting beside a Great Black-backed Gull. I noted its petite size and that its back seemed at least one shade darker than the Great Black-backed Gull. I took several pictures and watched it carefully for about 5 minutes. I then noted my fellow group members in the distance waving frantically at me. I rushed back to an awaiting Slaty-backed Gull.

Possible Baltic Gull

When things calmed down I showed the pictures to Bruce who commented that they were "intriguing". Ken Knowles had reported this same bird from Quidi Vidi Lake the afternoon prior to our Landfill visit and there was some thought that it might be the same "Baltic Gull"-like bird that had been seen the winter before in its second winter plumage.

Possible Baltic Gull

The bird was seen a few days later  very well at Quidi Vidi Lake by myself Ron Pittiway, Jean Iron and subsequently by Bruce Mactavish and John Dunn.

Possible Baltic Gull

The above pictures illustrate the key features described in Olsen and Larsson. Elegant looking, smallish head, slender bill and attenuated rear with long primary extension, jet black back with no contrast between back and primaries (only small white window P10), very little white to primary tips, and small amount of streaking around the eye and hindneck.

Possible Baltic Gull

If you look at Olsen and Larson's illustration of the Adult winter Baltic Gull on page 365 I think you will see it is nearly a dead ringer. I have included some pictures of several winter adult L. gracilis/intermedius
for comparison. These two birds were photographed the same day and location.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Note the contrast between the primary tips and the wings and back along with the extensive head streaking. The bottom bird was photographed in February in North Carolina.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

One final close-up of the head of the possible Baltic Gull.

Possible Baltic Gull

A very intriguing bird that to my eye fills all the criteria for an adult winter Baltic Gull.
Comments would certainly be welcomed.


  1. Kirk, another impressive post of an interesting find with great photo documentation. Very interesting looking gull.

  2. Nice find. Unfortunately not ringed, but there are still good ringing programmes in Finland and N Norway. Hopefully next time provenance. For 350+ ringed Baltics, see also;

    Cheers, Mars

  3. Hi Kirk, do you know what became of this sighting? Was it deemed a nominate fuscus Baltic Gull?

    Amar Ayyash

  4. Yes, what happened to this record!?!