Relict gull -- 遗鸥 (Larus relictus)

2nd winter relict gull
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Relict gull fact file

Relict gull description

GenusLarus (1)

Resembling the common gull in the first year of life, the relict gull is white, with pale grey wings tipped with dark-greyish brown. The legs and bill are black, and birds appear sleepy with a thick, sloping eye ring. In the second year, the head and nape are sprinkled with black, and by the third year, breeding birds have a fully black head, white body, and pale grey wings with black stripes on the closed wing tips. The bill is scarlet and the legs orange. In non-breeding plumage the black head feathers fade to grey, the legs deepen to red and the bill becomes two-tone, with a dark red base and even darker red tip (6).

Larus melanocephalus relictus.
Gaviota de Mongolia, Gaviota Relicta.
Length: 44 – 45 cm (2)

Relict gull biology

This species was discovered in 1929 and was classified as a subspecies of the Mediterranean gull, Larus melanocephalus, but was reclassified as a separate species in 1971 (7). A social bird, the relict gull roosts, feeds and nests in colonies (7), but rarely associates with other gull species (6). It feeds on midge larvae, small fish, and leaves in the breeding season and small crabs during the winter (7).

The relict gull is fastidious about its nesting sites, changing site each year (7), and failing to breed if the water level surrounding the nest-islands is too low or too high (2). They lay between one and four eggs each year if conditions are suitable (7).


Relict gull range

The relict gull breeds in eastern Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and China, and is thought to winter in several countries nearby, including South Korea and China (2).


Relict gull habitat

During the breeding season the relict gull is found in arid steppe regions, and on islands in saline lakes. In winter it has been seen on estuarine mudflats and sandflats (2).


Relict gull status

The relict gull is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (4) and on Annex 2 of the African-Eurasian Migratory Water Bird Agreement (AEWA) (5).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Relict gull threats

Drought, over-grazing and the over-use of reedbeds by local herders are the main threats to relict gulls on their breeding habitat (8). The breeding success of this Vulnerable bird appears to also be limited by fluctuations in the water level of the lakes, as well as by competition for nesting sites and predation of the eggs by other gull species. Disturbance from humans and poor weather conditions are known to cause increased mortality of eggs and chicks. In South Korea wintering relict gulls inhabit mudflats, and these are being reclaimed for urbanisation and cultivation, which impacts negatively on the relict gull population (2).


Relict gull conservation

The relict gull is found in some protected areas throughout its range (2), such as in eastern Mongolia where a breeding site is located within the Mongol Daguur Strictly Protected Area (8), and it is illegal to hunt this species in Russia. However, it requires protection in other range states, particularly in central Mongolia (2). More detailed field surveys to determine the breeding biology and abundance of this species in Mongolia are urgently needed, in order to understand the decline of the breeding population and establish a new protected area (8). A poster campaign has been produced to encourage local people to respect the breeding sites of the relict gull (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the relict gull see:



Authenticated (20/05/08) by Dr. Sundev Gombobaatar, Associate Professor, Zoology Department, National University of Mongolia. Vice President, Mongolian Ornithological Society.,,



A group of organisms living together. Individuals in the group are not physiologically connected and may not be related, such as a colony of birds.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
A biome (or subdivision of the Earth’s surface) that is composed of a swathe of temperate grassland stretching from Romania to China.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2008)
  2. BirdLife International (May, 2005)
  3. CITES (May, 2005)
  4. Convention on Migratory Species (August, 2008)
  5. AEWA (May, 2008)
  6. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  7. Birds Korea (May, 2008)
  8. Gombobaatar, S. (2008) Pers. comm.

Image credit

2nd winter relict gull  
2nd winter relict gull

© Mike Parker

Mike Parker


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