nominate Lesser Black-backed Gull (L. f. fuscus)

(last update: 23-11-2013)

Amir Ben Dov (Israel)
Hannu Koskinen (Finland)
Mars Muusse (the Netherlands)

fuscus rings

fuscus 1cy July
fuscus 1cy Aug
fuscus 1cy Sept
fuscus 1cy Oct
fuscus 1cy Nov
fuscus 1cy Dec

fuscus 2cy Jan
fuscus 2cy Feb
fuscus 2cy March
fuscus 2cy April
fuscus 2cy May
fuscus 2cy June
fuscus 2cy July
fuscus 2cy Aug
fuscus 2cy Sept
fuscus 2cy Oct
fuscus 2cy Nov

fuscus 2cy Dec

fuscus 3cy Jan
fuscus 3cy Feb
fuscus 3cy March
fuscus 3cy April
fuscus 3cy May
fuscus 3cy June
fuscus 3cy July
fuscus 3cy August

fuscus 3cy Sept

fuscus 3cy October
fuscus 3cy Nov
fuscus 3cy Dec

fuscus 4cy Jan
fuscus 4cy Feb
fuscus 4cy March
fuscus 4cy April
fuscus 4cy May
fuscus 4cy June
fuscus 4cy July
fuscus 4cy Aug
fuscus 4cy Sept

fuscus 4cy Oct
fuscus 4cy Nov
fuscus 4cy Dec

fuscus ad Jan
fuscus ad Feb
fuscus ad March
fuscus ad April
fuscus ad May
fuscus ad June
fuscus ad July
fuscus ad Aug
fuscus unringed Aug
fuscus ad Sept
fuscus ad Oct
fuscus ad Nov
fuscus ad Dec

sub-adult fuscus: August

In general, fuscus is described as a small Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG). Compared to graellsii and intermedius it has more contrast in upper-parts and wing-coverts. Dark patterns look darker and pale patterns look almost white, resulting in an "over-exposed" juvenile bird. This character, combined with the elongated wing, slender bill, small size of the bird and the peaked crown with the highest point behind the eye should give some clues to distinguish juvenile fuscus from other LBBG juveniles (graellsii & intermedius).

Before departure to wintering grounds, some juvenile fuscus moult mantle and scapulars to second generation feathers. Migration may start early, with juvenile birds arriving in Africa by late September, but most arrive in October, in some cases in complete juvenile plumage. Normally a rapid moult starts quickly after arrival: scapulars, coverts, secondaries and primaries may be included in the post-juvenile moult. By April, some 2cy birds migrate north to the breeding areas. On arrival, the wing may look anything from only a few new primaries moulted to completely 2nd generation primaries. Normally, moult is arrested during migration and a clear division is visible between old juvenile and fresh 2nd generation primaries.

Primary moult

The moult sequence in nominate Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus fuscus was already described by Stresemann & Stresemann in 1966 in Journal für Ornithologie. They described a periodische Staffelmauser, a step-wise moult. Normally, large white-headed gulls in Europe start replacement of the remiges during the breeding season and finish this moult in autumn, prior to their migration.

Stresemann & Stresemann described fuscus as an exception as it doesn't start the remiges moult before arriving at the wintering grounds in Africa and the Mediterranean. For a long-distance migrant like fuscus, this seems to be a suitable strategy. This pattern can also be found in long-distance migrants like Terns (Sternidae).

Stresemann & Stresemann examined skin collections and failed to find any adult L. f. fuscus originating from the breeding or autumn migratory range that was in active primary moult. Therefore they presumed the entire moult stage takes place on the wintering grounds. Adult birds on migration had been collected (Rossitten Bird Observatory, Russia) and these birds confirmed the theses: they must have suspended moult, as Heinroth (1928, Die Vögel Mitteleuropas) concluded: adult fuscus doesn't show active primary moult on migration. They either suspend moult or do not commence moult before arrival on the wintering grounds.

However, there are a few museum skins that do show adult fuscus in primary moult: the Zoological Museum of Helsinki (not visited by the Stresemanns in 1966) has 21 skins of summer / early autumn birds: 8 are showing moult in the primaries. The museums of Copenhagen and Tring have 10 skins in collecting from the same period: one is showing active primary moult.

The last decades, the general idea about the renewal of the primaries in adult fuscus has been changed slightly. Field research showed that a small majority (up to 60% in southern Sweden) of the adult fuscus have started to replace the inner one or two primaries on the breeding ground by late August. This primary moult is suspended until arrival at the tropical wintering grounds. Fuscus complete their primary moult in February and March, just before leaving again to the breeding grounds in Scandinavia and northern Russia. By March, the inner primaries may in some birds included in the primary moult, in a second wave. This seems to be a common feature in sub-adult birds.


1cy fuscus in August, ringed in Finland. (81365 bytes)L. f. fuscus 4cy J9LL August 05-07 2013, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Images: Herman Bouman. Bird from N Norway with arrested moult.
1cy fuscus in August, ringed in Finland. (81365 bytes)L. f. fuscus 4cy CNKH July-Sept 2006, Tampere, Finland. Images Hannu Koskinen.
03425.jpg (87134 bytes)Larus fuscus fuscus sub-adult, August 03 2002, Stockholm, Sweden.
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