Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus)

Brown-headed Gull on Qinghai Lake

Brown-headed Gull on Qinghai Lake

The Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus) is a small gull breeding at high-altitude (~3-4,500 m) lakes of Central Asia (e.g., Tajikistan, Tibet), while spending the winter months in tropical South and Southeast Asia (e.g., India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam). In appearance, the Brown-headed Gull is very similar to the more widely distributed Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus). Both species can be distinguished by the larger size, more compact body, and slightly lighter colour of the blackish-brownish head of the adult Brown-headed Gull’s summer plumage. The birds are gregarious occuring in large flocks and nesting in colonies within marshes or on lake islands. They feed on a variety of invertebrates (e.g., crustaceans, insects) and small fish, but also dig through human garbage or scavenge in towns. I have photographed this interesting species during a day trip to the Qinghai Lake, China, in August 2015. At this time of the year, the birds lose their summer plumage and gradually start their migration towards the south. Supposedly there are thousands of gulls breeding at the Qinghai Lake from May onwards, but in August I saw comparatively few birds.

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