Bird of the Day: Lesser Black-backed Gull

Gulls are quite difficult to paint in my style as they have a lot of white, so I bought some pale blue watercolour paper to use. Herring gulls are always popular but I do like to champion the less familiar species, and often, in painting them, I learn the diagnostic markings or features that mean I learn more about the bird.

Lesser Black-backed gulls are – as the name suggests – the smaller cousin of Great Black-backed gulls, and the main difference is size/build, and leg colour in the adults: LBBG have yellow legs, whereas GBBG have dull pink. Size is always a tricky one I find, as unless you have a handy reference bird to help you it’s difficult to judge on its own. Lessers are about the same size as a herring gull, but Greats are significantly bigger, with a wingspan of over 150cm and body bigger than a buzzard.

Lessers are generally more dainty, with a less hefty bill and a call similar to a herring gull. Greats have a more gruff, hoarse call, and to my mind, they trigger that “wow that’s a big gull” in the same way that ravens make you think “wow that’s a big crow” and often, if we are used to spending our time just watching birds come and go around us, there is that sort of instinctive knowledge that is worth listening to.

Bear in mind too that gulls are long-lived birds, and moult over 2 or 3 winters before becoming an adult with each stage of juvenile plumage giving us clues as to what species they are, but it is quite a challenge to discern which is which! Lessers are migratory too but many overwinter here, and Greats are resident and stay put in their patch.

I find my well-thumbed Collins Bird Guide (above) indispensable for this sort of identification, but the black backs are magnificent and easily recognisable. Despite the rather thuggish behaviour and brutish appearance of Great Black-backed gulls, they are a common bird around our coasts and towns and an easy one to spot for beginners.

Here is my painting of a Lesser Black-backed gull:

This painting is on my Etsy.

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