Justification of Red List Category
This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is estimated to be decreasing but it is not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
The European population was recently estimated at 118,000-328,000 pairs, which equates to 236,000-656,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).
The population in Europe is suspected to be decreasing by less than 25% in 30.3 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).
This species breeds almost entirely in Europe, mainly on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, with a recent spread to the northern Caucasian Plains and Azerbaijan. It also breeds at scattered localities throughout Europe, including the Netherlands, southern France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, southern England, Belgium, Germany and Spain. It winters in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, north-west Europe and north-west Africa (del Hoyo et al. 1996).
Behaviour Most populations of this species are fully migratory and travel along coastlines between their breeding and wintering areas (although a minority travel inland across Asian Turkey or follow major river valleys through Eastern and central Europe) (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998, Olsen and Larsson 2003). The species returns to its breeding colonies from late-February to early-April, with most beginning to breed from early-May (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Olsen and Larsson 2003). The autumn migration to the wintering grounds occurs from late-June onwards (Olsen and Larsson 2003). The species breeds in colonies, usually of less than 1,000 pairs and occasionally in single pairs amidst colonies of other species (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It often breeds near but not among Sandwich Terns Thalasseus sandvicensis, or intermingling with Larus ridibundus (del Hoyo et al. 1996). When breeding in coastal areas the species may fly up to 80 km away from the colony to feed on inland grassland (del Hoyo et al. 1996).
Habitat Breeding The species breeds on the Mediterranean coast at lagoons, estuaries and sometimes coastal saltmarsh, often also breeding inland on large steppe lakes and marshes in open lowland areas (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). It nests near water on flood-lands, fields and grasslands and on wet or dry areas of islands, favouring sparse vegetation but generally avoiding barren sand (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). Non-breeding Outside of the breeding season the species becomes entirely coastal, favouring estuaries, harbours, saline lagoons and other sheltered waters (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996).
Diet Breeding During the breeding season its diet consists of terrestrial and aquatic insects, gastropods, small numbers of fish and rodents (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Non-breeding When not breeding the species takes marine fish, molluscs, insects (e.g. beetles and grasshoppers), earthworms, berries, seeds (e.g. of barley, wheat, sunflowers and ragwort), offal and occasionally sewage and refuse (Urban et al. 1986, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Milchev et al. 2004).
Breeding site The nest is a shallow depression, situated on the ground in sparsely vegetated sites, thickets or reedbeds near water (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). The species breeds in dense colonies, with neighbouring pairs c.60 cm apart (del Hoyo et al. 1996).
Management information Artificially constructed nesting sites in coastal locations such as beaches of bare shingle and islands or rafts covered with sparse vegetation are successful in attracting breeding pairs of this species (Burgess and Hirons 1992). A conservation scheme for the protection of gull and tern breeding colonies in coastal lagoons and deltas (e.g. Po Delta, Italy) involves protection from human disturbance, prevention of erosion of islet complexes, habitat maintenance and the creation of new islets for nest sites (Fasola and Canova 1996). The scheme particularly specifies that bare islets with 30-100 % cover of low vegetation (sward heights less than 20 cm) should be maintained or created as nesting sites (Fasola and Canova 1996).
The major threat to this species appears to be predation at colonies, including egg collection by humans (Burger et al. 2017), as well as some hunting of adults in breeding colonies and during migration (James 1984, European Commission 2016). The species is also susceptible to large scale nest desertion in response to disturbance by tourists at breeding colonies (James 1984, Burger et al. 2017).
Conservation Actions Underway
The following information refers to the species's European range only: The species is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species, and is covered under the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement. It is listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention and on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive. It is listed within 127 Important Bird Areas. Within the EU it is listed as occurring within 424 Special Protection Areas.
Conservation Actions Proposed
The following information refers to the species's European range only: Identify site-based threats and manage protected areas.
Text account compilers
Malpas, L., Calvert, R., Ashpole, J, Martin, R., Stuart, A., Ekstrom, J., Elliott, N., Palmer-Newton, A., Butchart, S., Everest, J.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Larus melanocephalus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/11/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/11/2020.