To many people in
there are no birds to see. They could not be more wrong. They only have to
visit one of the bays or harbours in winter to watch gulls, terns and other
The good thing about gulls and other sea birds is that most of the time they come so close to the shore that they can be observed without using binoculars although a camera is a bonus.
At this time of the year the most common gull and the one you are most likely to see is the black-headed gull.
Black-headed gulls breed throughout most of Europe and Asia as well as along the eastern coast of Canada. Most populations are migratory. Migratory and wintering birds arrive in the Maltese islands in autumn and many remain until early spring. The numbers one can see close to the coast vary from day to day. On calm days they prefer to wander further out at sea but on windy and stormy days they congregate in sheltered areas especially in harbours.
Despite its name for most of the year the black-headed has a white head with a small black spot behind its eyes. It is only during the breeding season that it has a chocolate-brown hood. The Maltese name, gawwija rasha kannella, is a better description as the hood is not black. Sometimes one can see one or two birds in breeding plumage in late February or March before these birds leave for their breeding grounds further north in Europe.
Other species of gulls as wells as terns and the occasional grebe or cormorant can also be seen around the coast.
The Mediterranean gull, which winters in smaller numbers, is known in Maltese as gawwija rasha sewda because its head, face and part of the neck turn black during the breeding season.
The yellow-legged gull, gawwija prima, is much larger and can be seen throughout the year because it breeds in the Maltese islands.
This article was published in the Times of Malta on 4 December 2013.