Old Acquaintance

Return of a 23-Year old Black-headed Gull

Last Sunday (November 13) I did my usual round of checking various locations in and around the city of Leiden, The Netherlands, looking for ringed (banded) gulls. At this time of year, the cities here are full with predominantly Black-headed Gulls and Herring Gulls, while low numbers of Common Gulls are also starting to appear (their number will increase by the time it gets much colder for a longer period of time).

This is now my third winter in which I keep track of the individuals which are present and this winter I again expect a group of about 20 Black-headed Gulls to spend the winter here, spread over 5 or 6 different locations (there will be more of course, but I only keep track of a certain number of locations). They will have arrived from countries such as Sweden, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, and Belgium. A small number of Dutch gulls which have not migrated south can also be seen (although the majority will have moved by now).

Some 14 individuals have already returned and one of the highlights was the return of a Dutch Black-headed Gull with ring Arnhem 3431752. It was ringed on June 11, 1988 in Delfzijl harbour, The Netherlands, as a pullus (chick).

Black-headed Gull, 24cy, M[Arnhem 3431.752]
13 November 2011, Leiden, The Netherlands


My first observation was in January 2010 with my second not until a year later. I was able to observe it 5 times last January after which it once again disappeared. I was therefore not expecting for it to show up so early in the winter and was presently surprised to find out last Sunday that it is still around.

Being ringed such a long time ago, it was fitted with an aluminum ring (placed upside down) which has since become very thin and worn although surprisingly legible.

Black-headed Gull, 24cy, M[Arnhem 3431.752]
4 January 2011, Leiden, The Netherlands. Inset: the worn and very thin ring is still very legible (although it doesn’t help that it is placed upside down)

The bad news this year is that the ring has moved down to below the hind-toe and is in danger of being lost.

Black-headed Gull, 24cy, worn ring, M[Arnhem 3431.752]
13 November 2011, Leiden, The Netherlands.


It would be a shame for this gull to become ring-less, especially since it has reached such an old age (it’s quite exceptional for a Black-headed Gull to reach an age over 20). The local gull ringers have already been informed and we are hoping to recapture this gull soon so that it can be fitted with some longer lasting rings. We are confident that the current ring will last until then, hopefully the gull will stay in the area long enough.

Black-headed Gull, 24cy, M[Arnhem 3431.752]
13 November 2011, Leiden, The Netherlands

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