bobthebirder's picture

Black-headed Gull - White JYY

Observed: 24th January 2011 By: bobthebirderBirds expert

Obviously a black-headed gull, but its colour-ring reveals much about its life history - see below.

Species interactions

No interactions present.


bobthebirder's picture

The Oldest Gull at Radipole?

This black-headed gull was photographed in the car park next to the Reserve Centre on January 24th 2011. I had seen it two days earlier, noted down its ring number and posted it to the Euring web site at The next day I had an email from Copenhagen Natural History Museum giving me the full life history of this remarkable bird.

First ringed at Worthing in November 1993, the bird was then in its first-winter plumage, identifying it as having been hatched earlier the same year. Caught by the London Gull Study Group, our gull had a normal metal ring placed on its right leg, the smaller of the 2 rings in the photo. Four months later the gull was seen in Copenhagen, which was most likely where its parents had raised it. Remarkably the Danish observer was able to read the tiny number on the ring without having to catch the bird! It was then seen at Copenhagen every summer for 7 years, until 2001 when it was caught and the large colour ring it wears now was put on it. Bearing the letters JYY in black on a white background this ring was designed to be read in the field by anyone close enough or even at a distance through a telescope. Six months later in December 2001 the bird turned up at Radipole Lake, where it was seen three times that winter. Since then it has been seen every winter at Radipole, returning to Copenhagen every March, mostly to an area of lakes just west of the city. Two particularly interesting observations revealed its migration route. 0n December 11th 2005 our bird was in Amsterdam and exactly 2 weeks later was at Radipole. So clearly the bird does not fly straight to England after breeding, but spends the autumn in Europe. The start of its autumn migration through Northern Europe was revealed in September 2008, when it was seen in North Friesland in Germany, 300 km south west of Copenhagen. Further examination of the ringing details reveals that it has never been seen at Radipole before mid-December, typically arriving around Christmas Day. The winter of 2006/2007 was a year when it did not arrive at Radipole until the end of January, having been seen twice in Amsterdam earlier in the month. Most years our gull was not seen at Radipole after January, although in 2005 and 2006 it stayed until March, but still returned to Denmark by mid-month. In Denmark the bird was rarely seen after May, but this may reflect the activities of the observers rather than the gull.

Bob Ford

jhn7's picture

How interesting!

Thank you very much for taking the time to report this interesting saga. What a traveller- remarkable!

Certificate in Contemporary Science (Open)

Carstairs's picture


Many thanks for that information, it's good to hear some of the stories bird ringing reveals.

anonymous spotter's picture

A well-travelled bird -

good to be able to find out that much information about it.