Laridae – Gulls, Terns & Skimmers

South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea ©James Lowen Website

I really do not know why Gulls excite such passion. Frankly, I, like very many birders, find the taxa difficult to ID quickly and, sorry chaps, rather boring. Its a bit like the old Ford dictum – you can have any colour you like as long as its black! With gullys thats black, white and shades of grey.

Nevertheless, there are a great many very dedicated gull watchers ready to split by leg shade or gape colour. Good luck to you I say – I admit it has one great advantage – every town with a rubbish tip has plenty of gulls and these sucessful birds are very much more common inland than they used to be. It is, of course, a good way of recognising a birder and separating him or her from the populous at large. Point at the black and white bird and ask what it is. Most people will tell you its a sea-gull. Birders will tell you its a gull!

The IOC recently lumped into this family two others, which had been treated as families in their own right Skimmers and Terns. The latter contains some of the most beautiful species and in many ways the most birdy of birds – the Arctic Tern, which in the course of two years completely circumnavigates the globe going from pole to pole and back again.

Species List

According to the IOC the family Laridae, terns, skimmers and gulls consists of 101 species, which are:

Brown Noddy Anous stolidus
Lesser Noddy Anous tenuirostris
Black Noddy Anous minutus

Blue Noddy Procelsterna cerulea
Grey Noddy Procelsterna albivitta

White Tern Gygis alba

Black Skimmer Rynchops niger
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris
Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis

Swallow-tailed Gull Creagrus furcatus

Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla
Red-legged Kittiwake Rissa brevirostris

Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea

Sabine’s Gull Xema sabini

Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei
Bonaparte’s Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia
Silver Gull Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae
Black-billed Gull Chroicocephalus bulleri
Andean Gull Chroicocephalus serranus
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus
Brown-hooded Gull Chroicocephalus maculipennis
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Grey-headed Gull Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus
Hartlaub’s Gull Chroicocephalus hartlaubii
Saunders’s Gull Chroicocephalus saundersi

Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus

Ross’s Gull Rhodostethia rosea

Dolphin Gull Leucophaeus scoresbii
Lava Gull Leucophaeus fuliginosus
Laughing Gull Leucophaeus atricilla
Franklin’s Gull Leucophaeus pipixcan
Grey Gull Leucophaeus modestus

Relict Gull Ichthyaetus relictus
Audouin’s Gull Ichthyaetus audouinii
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus
Pallas’s Gull Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus
White-eyed Gull Ichthyaetus leucophthalmus
Sooty Gull Ichthyaetus hemprichii

Pacific Gull Larus pacificus
Belcher’s Gull Larus belcheri
Olrog’s Gull Larus atlanticus
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris
Heermann’s Gull Larus heermanni
Mew Gull Larus canus
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
California Gull Larus californicus
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus
Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus
Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens
Western Gull Larus occidentalis
Yellow-footed Gull Larus livens
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides
Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri
European Herring Gull Larus argentatus
American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus
Vega Gull Larus vegae
Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
Armenian Gull Larus armenicus
Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia

Royal Tern Thalasseus maximus
Greater Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii
Elegant Tern Thalasseus elegans
Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis
Chinese Crested Tern Thalasseus bernsteini
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis
Cabot’s Tern Thalasseus acuflavidus

Little Tern Sternula albifrons
Saunders’s Tern Sternula saundersi
Least Tern Sternula antillarum
Yellow-billed Tern Sternula superciliaris
Peruvian Tern Sternula lorata
Fairy Tern Sternula nereis
Damara Tern Sternula balaenarum

Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleuticus
Spectacled Tern Onychoprion lunatus
Bridled Tern Onychoprion anaethetus
Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus

River Tern Sterna aurantia
Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii
White-fronted Tern Sterna striata
Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana
South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
White-cheeked Tern Sterna repressa
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea
Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata
Kerguelen Tern Sterna virgata
Forster’s Tern Sterna forsteri
Snowy-crowned Tern Sterna trudeaui
Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda

Black-fronted Tern Chlidonias albostriatus
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Black Tern Chlidonias niger

Large-billed Tern Phaetusa simplex

Inca Tern Larosterna inca

Species Links
  • Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans

    Species Account
    Caspian gull is a name applied to the gull taxon Larus cachinnans, a member of the herring gull/lesser black-backed gull complex.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

    Species Account
    The lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus) is a large gull that breeds on the Atlantic coasts of Europe. The scientific name is from Latin. Larus appears to have referred to a gull or other large seabird, and fuscus meant black or brown.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

    Cornell Species Account
    Common across Europe, the Lesser Black-backed Gull is an uncommon, but regular visitor to eastern North America
  • South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map
  • South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea

    Species Account
    The South American tern (Sterna hirundinacea) is a species of tern found in coastal regions of southern South America, including the Falkland Islands, ranging north to Peru (Pacific coast) and Brazil (Atlantic coast).
  • South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea

    Cornell Species Account
    Along with the Snowy-crowned Tern (Sterna trudeaui), the South American Tern is the most widespread tern in the now restricted “Sterna” group of mid-sized terns.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 101

Useful Reading
  • Flight Identification of European Seabirds

    | By Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife & Niklas Holmstrom | Christopher Helm | 2007 | Paperback | 374 pages, 690 colourphotos | ISBN: 9780713686166 Buy this book from
  • Gulls - A Guide to Identification

    | By P J Grant | T & AD Poyser | 2010 | Edition 2 | Hardback | 352 pages, B/w photos, b/w illustrations, maps | ISBN: 9781408138311 Buy this book from
  • Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Approach to Identification

    | By Pete Dunne & Kevin T Karlson | Princeton University Press | 2018 | Paperback | 208 pages, 330 colour photos | ISBN: 9780691156941 Buy this book from
  • Seabirds

    | By Peter Harrison | Christopher Helm | 1991 | Hardback | 448 pages, 324 distribution maps, 88 colour plates, line drawings | ISBN: 9780713635102 Buy this book from
  • Seabirds - a natural history

    | By Anthony J Gaston | A&C Black | 2004 | Hardback | 222 pages, 22 colour plates, b/w photos, illustrations, figures | ISBN: 9780713665574 Buy this book from
  • Terns - of Europe & North America

    | By klaus Malling Olsen & Hans Larsson | Christopher Helm | 1995 | Hardback | 224 pages, 44 colour plates, 200 colour photos, line drawings, distribution maps | ISBN: 9780713640564 Buy this book from
  • Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association

    SOSSA was founded by members of the New South Wales Albatross Study Group (NSWASG) in 1994. It was set up to be an umbrella organisation for many study groups concerned with studies of Southern Ocean bio-diversity. SOSSA is a wildlife research and conservation group which consists of dedicated people both professional and amateur. These people share a common interest and concern for the environment and the wildlife of the Southern Oceans
  • The Seabird Group

    The Seabird Group, a registered charity, was founded in 1966 to promote and help coordinate the study and conservation of seabirds
Forums & Mailing Lists
  • Laridae

    Mailing List
    Laridae est une liste de discussion ornitho traitant des Labbes, Mouettes, Goélands, Sternes et Guifettes
Other Links
  • Gabbiani Gulls

    Gulls of Italy…
  • Great Gull Island

    Great Gull Island is the site of an ongoing research project on Common Terns and Roseate Terns.
  • Gull Identification Website

    To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying, The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.-Legolas Song of the Sea (The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien) - featuring images, links to images, and individual species/subspecies descriptions(limited to the larger white-headed species)…
  • Italian Gulls – Gabbiani d'Italia

    Welcome to the web site featuring the Italian gull species. Here you'll learn all about the gulls flying over Italy, where they nest, from where they arrive and where they go…
  • Martin Reid's Gulls

    Yet more of those black, white and grey jobs… personally leaves me cold…
  • Ocean Wanderers

    Angus Wilson`s Bird Identification Resource
  • Rudy's Birding Page

    Welcome to my homepage. This site will be an information-page about everything that is linked to my favourite hobby: birdwatching! Surprisingly, even for me, that everything turned out to be mostly Gulls!!

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

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