Justification of Red List Category
New data collated for the 2021 European Red List of Birds have shown increases or stability in the breeding populations. Despite some evidence for earlier declines and fluctuations in parts of this species' range, there is no evidence to suggest that the population is declining. The available breeding and wintering data suggest it is increasing, and the species is therefore listed as Least Concern. Further research into threats and global trends is recommended.
The global population is estimated at 45,000-73,000 mature individuals, including estimates from Armenia, Georgia, Turkey from between 1970-2019 (BirdLife International in prep.) and 1,060 mature individuals from Iran (Sheldon, 2017). This roughly equates to 68,000-110,000 individuals in total. The European population size is estimated to be 44,400-71,800 mature individuals (BirdLife International in prep.). In Armenia, the last census (2019) shows presence of 14,800 breeding pairs in Lake Arpi and Lake Sevan (Aghababyan et al. in prep.)
The size of the wintering population in Turkey is estimated at 31,000-42,000 individuals, with 4,000-7,000 of those in Armenia (2013-2019; BirdLife International in prep.); 7,000-8,000 in Iran and 6,000-12,000 in Israel (Wetlands International 2021).
It is estimated that the breeding population has increased by 5-8% in Armenia (which holds c. 44% of the European population) between 2009-2018 and by 13-27% between 1980-2018. The breeding population is thought to be stable in Turkey, which also holds c. 44% of the European population (BirdLife International in prep.). Based on IWC data, Nagy and Langendoen (2020) reported a moderate increase for the period of 2006-2018 (1.0538) and uncertain trend for 2009-2018 (1.0611). There therefore may be an overall increase (Wetlands International 2021). Despite some evidence for earlier declines and fluctuations in parts of this species' range (e.g., Ben Dov 2015, Burger et al. 2020), there is no evidence to suggest that the population is currently declining overall.
This species breeds from the Caucasus through Armenia (breeding at Lake Sevan and Lake Arpilich [Burger et al. 2015]) to western Turkey (several known colonies, ranging from 12 to 3,450 pairs, A. Ben Dov in litt. 2016) and north-west Iran, wintering south to the eastern Mediterranean, northern Red Sea and northern Persian Gulf (Burger et al. 2015). Reports from Egypt suggest a wintering population of up to 2,100 individuals in the north-west of the country (A. Ben Dov in litt. 2016). It is a common winter visitor and passage migrant to Israel where numbers have decreased from approximately 60,000 individuals in the late 1980s to 22,000-26,000 individuals in 2009-2014 (A. Ben Dov in litt. 2015) and more recently, 6,000-12,000 (Wetlands International 2021). A small wintering population has been reported in Kuwait (Ben Dov, 2015). The species is believed to be stable in Turkey and increasing in Armenia (BirdLife International in prep.). Trends are unknown for Georgia and Iran. The Armenian gull was considered vagrant in Lebanon, but Ramadan-Jaradi (2017) suggests it may be a not uncommon winter visitor.
The species inhabits both coastal and inland waters, frequenting lakes, reservoirs, ponds and rivers in Armenia, and additionally foraging in flooded meadows and irrigated areas (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Adamian and Klem Jr. 1999). It breeds along the stony and grassy shores of mountain lakes, nesting and foraging in reedbeds and on beaches (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Olsen and Larsson 2004). The nest is a loosely constructed structure of dry herbaceous vegetation. In two colonies, nests were spaced 1-2 m or more apart among stones and grass, under rocks, or under bushes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Adamian and Klem Jr. 1999). In its winter range the species may also forage in agricultural fields and on fish-ponds (Tel Aviv) (Adamian and Klem Jr. 1999, Olsen and Larsson 2004). Most of this species undergoes short-distance migratory movements on a narrow front (along the rivers and deltas of Turkey) between separate breeding and wintering grounds. A small proportion of the species may remain resident on the breeding grounds, and others may oversummer in the wintering grounds (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Olsen and Larsson 2004). The species breeds from late-April onwards, nesting colonially in huge aggregations (there may be more than 4,000 pairs per colony) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Its diet is poorly known, but may consist primarily of fish as well as terrestrial invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and rodents (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Adamian and Klem Jr. 1999).
The global population of this species decreased significantly in the past as a result of persecution (due to the damage it inflicted to fisheries) and egg harvesting (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Olsen and Larsson 2004). The breeding success of the species was dramatically reduced after the water-level in Lake Sevan (Armenia) was lowered due to extraction for irrigation and hydropower production (Adamian and Klem Jr. 1999). Further threats in Armenia include poaching in the fish-farms of Ararat Plain, where non-breeding individuals concentrate year-round and adult individuals concentrate during wintering; eutrophication of the Lake Sevan due to algal blooms (from sewage and agricultural run off, and declines in macroinvertebrates and macrophytes), affecting food supply; and further decreases of the water level from dam repairs (Aghababyan et al. in prep.).
Modernization of sewage and rubbish treatment facilities have likely reduced habitat quality within Israel and birds that used to winter in these areas may have moved elsewhere (A. Ben Dov in litt. 2015). The gulls also feed on garbage dumps in Armenia, with recycling of municipal waste causing declines in food (K. Aghababyan in litt. 2021) The lake where the species has been recorded breeding in Iran, Lake Urumiyeh in Azarbaijan province, has decreased greatly in size (A. Ben Dov in litt. 2015).
Conservation and Research Actions Underway
It is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species and is covered by the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. There are 20 Important Bird Areas for this species across the region. In Armenia it breeds at Lake Sevan which falls within Lake Sevan National Park (IUCN Category II) (Burger et al. 2015).
Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Identification and designation of important sites for this species. Education programmes to fishers to reduce persecution. Very few studies have been carried out on the species, and further work is needed to understand its ecology, including its diet and population trends. Improve surveys in Georgia, Turkey and Iran to attain quantitative trend information.
57-60 cm, wingspan c. 140 m. White-headed gull with grey mantle and upperwings, bill deep yellow with a narrow subterminal black band and red spot near gonys (Burger et al. 2015). Legs yellow to orange-yellow. Iris mainly yellowish to brown with red orbital ring. Similar species Smaller, more slender and with a shorter, stubbier bill, more rounded forecrown than Caspian Gull L. cachinnans and by brighter legs and more extensive black at wingtips. Also has more extensive black at wingtips than European Herring Gull L. argentatus. Further distinguished from L. argentatus by wing pattern, bill, yellow legs and darker eyes. Upperparts slightly paler than L. fuscus heuglini but darker than L. argentatus argenteus.
Text account compilers
Wheatley, H., Everest, J., Hermes, C., McGonigle, K.
Aghababyan, K., Ashpole, J, Ben Dov, A., Burfield, I., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Ieronymidou, C., Malpas, L., Pople, R., Symes, A., Tarzia, M, Taylor, J., Westrip, J.R.S. & Wright, L
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Larus armenicus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/05/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/05/2022.