Russian Common Gull ssp heinei

An adult on Texel

Thought I would flag this up before the forthcoming gull days One to be looking for.

One of the fun birds to find with the guys on Texel was this adult Russian Common Gull ssp. heinei. Info on identification on these is bit uncertain so this is a little peak at a work-in-progress. I have been looking at the subject for a while, more recently very encouraged to be working with Chris Gibbins and his fresh insights.

This bird, in a frozen harbour on Texel ticks ALL the boxes for ID as adult heinei. I think it is one!

It’s the bird middle at the back. Compare upperpart tone with adult argentatus Herring on near left. Some heinei are almost/ virtually the tone of graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gulls. (Kodak Grey Scaleheinei Common = 6-8, graellsii LBB = 8-10(11).)

I saw several darker Common Gulls on Texel (adult and 2nd winters), just not all as well as this bird. There are no ‘sight records’ for heinei in Netherlands, only trapped birds as far as I know. Same in U.K. Shame.

Closer view- check out the iris colour and interestingly the considerable protrusion of black-banded p5 beyond tertials. It looked long-winged on the deck with quite bright legs and bill.



Lots of good heinei info in the primaries- broad black michahellis band on p5, combined with almost wholly black p8 and little dark marks on p4. A bit technical but that seems to be a winning combination.


paler iris, very dark upperparts and 3 points in wing tip pattern…

This bird was trapped in the Netherlands, also in February 2012 by VRS Meijendel (the name of the ringing group). Vincent van der Spek got in touch and kindly sent images. It had a wing length of  394mm – a heinei on wing length (max wing in canus 390mm). Notice similar themes in primary pattern to bird above.

P.S. Don’t write if you find a Common Gull with black band on p5- some nominate canus have the feature although it’s often broken and not as broad. Let me know though if you see one with all these characters.

6 thoughts on “Russian Common Gull ssp heinei

  1. Marc Hughes

    Really interesting stuff Martin. There have been several thousand Common Gulls along the North Wales coast over the last fortnight or so. The few darvic rings read on them have come from Norway, however some of the Med Gulls that join them have come from Germany. Each year we have a handful of darker individuals and this year is no exception. I had two possible ‘heinei’ earlier in the week (see for some pictures) . The mantle tones on both birds were considerably darker than the many thousands of ‘canus’ present, the bill and legs were a lot brighter (almost an orange hint to the yellow), there was also considerable black protrusion into the wing. One feature on both birds (and of a third seen by Chris Jones) was the reduced white mirroring on these birds. Photos of one also show a hint of a pale eye. Unfortunately the birds weren’t seen in flight so no wing pattern was seen. I’ll certainly be more aware of what to look out for now to try and clinch one.

  2. Pim Wolf

    Hi Martin,

    like you, I think that heinei is underrecorded in western Europe. It is here in winter, ringers do catch birds with the proper measurements and a proportion of those should be identifiable under field circumstances. On the other hand, I also think that the ID of this subspecies is slightly more difficult than you suggest in this post. If the combination of paler eyes, a black band on p5, combined with a darker grey mantle is enough to clinch a heinei I have seen more than a few, many in fact. It is possible that (some of) these have been proper heinei, or birds from the contact-zone. However, there is no way to be sure. There is a severe lack of photographed open wings of birds ringed in the “right” area and reported in western Europe.The fact is that adult canus canus can also show darker (or paler) upperparts than an average canus canus has, combined with a black band on p5 (even in birds breeding in the Netherlands). A percentage of L. canus has paler eyes, so you can fully expect a few canus canus with darker than average mantle and a band on p5 to have slightly paler eyes as well.

    All in all, I think you are right to rock the boat and try to give this subspecies the attention it deserves. At the same time, I think that this is a very difficult ID to make in the field.

    keep pushing, best wishes,

    Pim Wolf

  3. Vincent van der Spek

    Hi Martin, Pim, others,

    I overlooked one source, which mentions a max wing length of 392 mm for male canus. Don’t forget, however, that such a wing belongs to an extremely large male. Birds with wings longer than 392mm are – as far is I’m aware – only found in heinei. But > 392 mm is also (way) above average for a male heinei! Hence: by using this “diagnostic” wing length you miss all females (both small, average and large) and all small and even ALL AVERAGE (!) males heinei.

    Note that 7 out of the 52 birds we (VRS Meijendel) trapped in the first half of February had wings > 392 mm. It makes me wonder what part of our winter population belongs to heinei… So Pim, maybe no wonder you’ve seen so many when you use the characters mentioned by Martin 😉


    PS For those interested: I covered this subject in more detail in this post:

    PPS for those who are aware of sources with measurements for either canus or heinei after 2004 from the breeding grounds, please let me know!

  4. Frode Falkenberg

    A view from western Norway: The situation is possibly different here during winter, with lots of northern breeding birds being present. Our local Common Gulls winter further south, in a.o. Britain and the Netherlands. The data is not really clear, but wings tend to be longer for birds breeding in Arctic Norway, but the lengths mentioned above are rare. A complete black band on p5 is not rare, and a small percentage do also show bright(er) eyes. Anyway, during late December and onwards arrive (mainly adults and 3cy’s), and some of these do show slightly different plumage-features, than the ones that have been present. Some birds show a rather powerful jizz, with Ring-billed Gull bill-proportions, dark boa in the neck, and a higher percentage of black pigments in the tertials and tail (in 3cy’s). Personally I think the back-coloration is hard to judge, but it might be a nice way to pick out objects.


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