Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Little Gull - Hydrocoloeus minutus
LARIDAE Members:
Search Common:                 Search Scientific:
General Comments Like the Black-headed Gull, the Little Gull is essentially an Old World species, though in the past decade or two a few breeding pairs have been discovered in Canada and in the Great Lakes states. Unlike the Black-headed, Little Gulls in North Carolina are invariably seen with flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls along the coast in the winter or early spring. There are now at least eight inland records, most with Bonaparte's Gulls; none of these are from the mountains, and more than half of the Piedmont records are from the same lake. Favored habitats in the state are the inshore ocean and even slightly offshore, wherever Bonaparte's Gulls are feeding. A few records are from tidal ponds along the coast, but normally one looks for a Little Gull by scanning from a beach, looking out over the ocean. As with other "black-headed" gulls, the scientific name was changed recently, from the easily spelled and pronounced Larus to the "un-spell-able" and "un-pronounce-able" Hydrocoloeus.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor, essentially only along the coast and in near offshore waters. From Hatteras Inlet northward, rare in the first half of winter, and rare to uncommon after mid-Jan, at times uncommon from late Jan into Mar; mostly rare all winter from Hatteras Inlet to Bogue Banks, and casual farther south. Accidental in the Tidewater zone, with the only record being of one at New Bern, 8 Mar 1997. No far inland records. Normal dates are late Dec to early Apr, with a handful of records from 20 Aug to 13 Nov; also a few records from mid-Apr to as late as 21 May. Peak counts: an astounding 91 seen on 5 Feb 1994 from the Dare Outer Banks; 16, Cape Hatteras Point, 10 Mar 1987; 12 from Cape Hatteras Point, 24 Mar 2021; 11 on a pelagic trip off Oregon Inlet (Dare) on 6 Mar 2021.
Piedmont Casual to now very rare winter visitor. Single birds noted at Jordan Lake: an immature seen from 5-26 Mar 1994; an adult on 21 Feb 2004; one of unreported age on 19 Feb 2005 and again on 12 Mar 2005, probably relating to the same bird; and an adult from 25 Nov - 6 Dec 2017. Other records are one at Falls Lake on 16 Nov 2006; a report of a first-winter bird at Lake Crabtree (Wake) on 9 Mar 2012; an immature at Falls Lake (Durham), on the extremely early date of 24 Aug 2019; and two photographed at Lake Norman on 18 Dec 2023, with one the next day. A report of a sub-adult on 29 Aug 1971 [Chat 36:30 link] at Roanoke Rapids Lake likely refers to a Black Tern. Also, it is possible that at least one of the above other records is misidentified, as few were seen by multiple observers or documented with photos. A photo of the 2017 bird from Jordan Lake is posted on the Carolina Bird Club Photo Gallery. Peak count: 2, see above.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips This species is reliably found among the large flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls along the northern half of the coast from Feb to mid-Mar. At the present time, expect to see roughly one Little Gull for every 800 to 1,000 Bonaparte's Gulls examined. They are also seen on a fair number of pelagic trips during this late winter period.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-13], LeGrand[2023-03-13], LeGrand[2021-09-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.