E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Hydrocoloeus minutus Pallas, 1776
Little Gull
Family: Laridae
Photo of species

© Rick Toochin  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #43639)

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Distribution of Hydrocoloeus minutus in British Columbia
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Species Information

The Status and Occurrence of Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) in British Columbia

by Rick Toochin and Don Cecile

Read the full article with photos here.

Introduction and Distribution

The Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) is the smallest species of gull in the world. This species is commonly found in the Old World but has recently colonized areas of eastern North America (Olsen and Larson 2003). There are three breeding populations of Little Gull spread out in both Europe and Asia (Olsen and Larson 2003). The European populations breed from Scandinavia, parts of the northeastern Baltic to western Russia and the second population is found well to the east in central Russia, also referred to as central Siberia (Olsen and Larson 2003). The Asian population is found near Lake Baikal, Mongolia and northern China (Olsen and Larson 2003). There are isolated breeding records throughout Europe, including Great Britain (Olsen and Larson 2003). The Little Gulls that breed in Europe and central (Siberia) Russia winter from the Caspian Sea west to the Black Sea, into the Mediterranean Ocean including along the coast of North Africa, off the Atlantic Coast of Europe from Portugal and Spain north to Great Britain (Olsen and Larson 2003). The wintering grounds of the Little Gulls that breed in eastern Russia and Asia are less known (Olsen and Larson 2003, Brazil 2009). They are believed to winter in the Sea of Okhotsk and Japan south to China (Olsen and Larson 2003). In China there are three widely separated wintering areas in Northwest China, northeast China and the East China Sea (Olsen and Larson 2003).

The breeding range in North America is poorly known, but confirmed breeding is restricted to Great Lakes–St. Lawrence River basin, and southern Minnesota and the Hudson Bay and James Bay lowlands in Manitoba and Ontario (Ewins and Weseloh 1999). Little Gulls are suspected of breeding in other remote areas across northern Canada in very small numbers (Ewins and Weseloh 1999). Due to how remote these regions are and the lack of coverage and access it may take a very long time to find this species breeding away from their known areas in eastern Canada and the United States (Ewins and Weseloh 1999).

Along the west coast, the Little Gull is a rare but regular species in California with over 86 accepted records by the California Bird Records Committee (Hamilton et al. 2007). In Oregon there are 10 accepted records by the Oregon Bird Records Committee (OFO 2012). In Washington State it is not a review species with over 100 state records (Wahl et al. 2005). In Alaska the Little Gull is a casual species with only a few occurrences (West 2008, Gibson et al. 2012). In British Columbia, the Little Gull is rare but nearly annual in occurrence with almost all records along the coast (Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1). There are over 90 Provincial records from all times of the year but most birds have been seen in migration with migrating Bonaparte’s Gulls (Campbell et al. 1990b, Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1).

Occurrence and Documentation:

It is not clear where Little Gulls that turn up in British Columbia and along the west coast originate but the conventional wisdom is that they are not coming from Alaska via Asia since this species is considered casual in that state with not many records (Ewins and Weseloh 1999). Little Gulls have been found nesting on lakes and marshes in Ontario and the same habitat is found right across northern Canada and British Columbia (Ewins and Weseloh 1999). This species prefers to nest in areas with Common Terns (Sterna hirundo), Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) and Forster’s Terns (Sterna forsteri) (Ewins and Weseloh 1999). Common Terns do not breed in British Columbia but migrate from the Prairies westward then south (Campbell et al. 1990b). It is most likely that our Little Gulls are moving into British Columbia in a similar fashion as they are often found with mixed flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Common Terns (Campbell et al. 1990b).

The status of Little Gull in British Columbia has an interesting history. It was only first found in British Columbia in 1972 which makes it a recent species to be added to the Province’s avifauna (Campbell et al. 1990b). Once observers began checking Bonaparte’s Gull flocks, records of Little Gulls increased dramatically through the 1980s (Toochin et al. 2014, Please see Table 1). As it stands now there are almost 100 records of Little Gull for the Province (Toochin et al. 2014, see Table 1). Records are mostly concentrated along the southwest coast, where the most observers are located in British Columbia, which may also coincide with this species’ preferred migratory route. However, there is an increasing number of records for interior of the Province as observers check gulls more carefully. Out of the 96 Provincial records of Little Gull in British Columbia, 68 records come from the fall migration period which is from August 1 – November 30. These records are mostly concentrated along the southern tip of Vancouver Island near Victoria, with records extending up the east side of the Island to Courtenay and with many records from the Lower Mainland. There are a few scattered records from the interior in the fall and likely this number will increase in time as observer’s check Bonaparte’s Gull flocks more carefully. There are 14 summer records of Little Gull mostly involving younger birds that linger or summer in the area they are found. The timing of these records is between June 1 and July 30. There are a few summer records for the Lower Mainland with one record for Charlie Lake outside Fort St John in the Peace River Lowlands. There are only 9 Spring records of Little Gull for British Columbia. Two of the records are for April but the rest occurred in the month of May. All are from the southwest coastal region with birds being seen from the Victoria area, up island to Galiano Island and in the Vancouver area. There appears to be no March records of Little Gull yet for British Columbia. As it stands now the records fall between April 7-May 30. The winter season has the fewest records of Little Gull with 5 records, which is not surprising given how localized and scarce Bonaparte’s Gulls are at that time of year. All records come from the southwest coastal areas either in the Victoria area or the Vancouver area and all birds were seen in the company of Bonaparte’s Gulls. There are certain places in the Province where Bonaparte’s Gulls congregate in large numbers in migration. Traditionally, this was along the waterfront of Victoria, Active Pass in the Gulf Islands, between Parksville and Courtenay on the eastern side of Vancouver Island, Iona Island in Richmond to Point Roberts, in Washington State. It is in these areas where most of the Provincial records of Little Gull have occurred. It seems clear that given the high number of occurrences in British Columbia and all along the west coast to California, Little Gulls will continue to be found in the Province. It is a species that can be found anywhere in British Columbia and observers should be diligent in checking through migratory flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls at any season as this species can turn up when you least expect it.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeSNAAccidentalNot Listed
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General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2024-07-14 12:49:49 AM]
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