Saturday, December 28, 2013

The yellow-legged gull

An injured yellow-legged gull found at Għadira Bay last Sunday.
I regularly visit the Ghadira Nature Reserve to check what birds are present and to take pictures. Last Sunday as soon as I got there a man came to the reserve’s reception centre and informed the weekend wardens that there were two large birds on the beach. One had a broken wing and could not fly and the other was dead. 

One of the young wardens immediately went to the beach to save the injured bird, an immature yellow-legged gull as was the dead bird. The injured bird was picked up and taken to the reserve so that it would be taken to a vet.

The day before this incident somebody went to the reserve to inform the warden that he saw two hunters shooting at gulls from a boat in the bay.

The yellow-legged gull has been protected by Maltese law for over thirty years. It is illegal to shoot at them kill them or harm them in any way.

The yellow-legged gull is a large bird. Males can have a wingspan of over one and a half metres.

Adults are recognised by their silvery grey back and upper wings. Immature birds are mottled grey and can be confused with other similar species. The yellow-legged is the only gull likely to be seen around the Maltese islands during the summer months.

The yellow-legged is Malta’s largest breeding bird. The largest colony is found on the plateau of the small island of Filfla. Other colonies can also be found along the cliffs in both Malta and Gozo.

It is only recently that the yellow-legged gull started to be recognised as a separate species. In previous year, it was considered as a subspecies of the herring gull. The herring gull is a similar gull but adults have pink instead of yellow legs. At one time the yellow-legged gull was assumed to be the same species as the Caspian gull but with the help of DNA analyses it was realised that it is a separate species and is nowadays known scientifically as Larus michahellis. Throughout these changes in scientific classification and common name this species retained its Maltese name, gawwija prima.

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 11 December 2013.

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