Heuglin’s Gull in Germany

Martin Garner with photos by Martin Gottschling.

Heuglin’s Gull. It is the ‘Lesser Black-backed Gull’ of Western Siberia/Northern Russia. There are zero British records. How do you identify them? Here’s an adult showing the main features for this time of year.

Old ‘cachinanns‘ sparring partner Detlef Gruber (wrote one of the first paper in German on Caspian Gulls) got in touch to discuss this potential heuglini.  I had seen a couple of images the bird online but the images were too distant to make out details. However Martin Gottschling’s photos here show quite a bit. I haven’t seen the bird, so if you have and can fill in details, or correct my interpretation, please do so (scroll down).

Thee superb Gull research website introduces heuglini as follows:

In mid-winter, heuglini normally can be found along shores & on beaches, fish-markets and rubbish dumps in E Africa, the Middle East and further east to the coastline of Bombay. They often flock together with other species in winter. Heuglini, being a north Russian tundra breeder, can normally identified by the late moult process in winter.


Apparent adult Heuglin’s Gull, Braunschweig, Germany, 30th January 2014. all photos by Martin Gottschling.


3 Features are pro heuglini and together seem to make a strong case for the ID as that taxon

  • Moult is not yet complete in flight feathers. It appears that p10 is old, p9 has been dropped (not visible) and rest of the 8 primaries are new and some secondaries are still growing 
  • There are 8 black marked primaries which would be unusual/remarkable in graellsii.
  • The heavier streaking concentrated around the nape with ‘spotty’ appearance is typical of winter heuglini; streaking more evenly spread over the head on graellsii etc.
  • Additional features of some (not this bird) include duller bare parts (even flesh coloured legs in adults) and dark speckling in iris

I have been looking for and trying to figure out heuglini for at least 25 years. Never seen a full-on candidate in the UK. This is just what I would want to find – please!

So on broad brush stroke view of heuglini ID this appears to have late moult, good streaking pattern and discriminating amount of black in primaries- so yes I like it!

Let us know what you think…


4 thoughts on “Heuglin’s Gull in Germany

    1. Martin Garner Post author

      I have read Mars words- always full of real experience. I think it’s important to say he is not, as I read this, saying that his is not heuglini- just really helpfully bringing to the fore what the caveats are that may be less well know. So let me be bold. Many large gulls are not one features or two features. They are frequently identified by that sweet combination (as you know v well Jan!) of several features all represent that together have not been found in another tax- all together on one bird. At the moment this German bird hasa ‘heuglini set’, not as far as I can see anyone has demonstrated a ‘graellsii etc ‘set.. Martin

      1. Jan Jörgensen

        of course the possibility for the German bird to actually be a heuglini is far from a closed matter imo. However, Mars last words “This is all conjecture, and for the moment we probably cannot say with 100% confidence that this German bird is heuglini” was what I was refering to in my short note above, not specifically directed to yours truley 🙂


  1. Geoff Carey


    While not querying the diagnosis, such as it is, I would just say that based on my observations of supposed heuglini in Hong Kong, I’ve never seen a bird with complete P8, just emerged and barely visible P9 and old P10. In my experience, a bird with complete P8 usually has both P9 and P10 at least one-third to two-thirds grown.

    Geoff Carey


Leave a Reply