Great Black-headed Gull

A visit to Exter Museum and a chance to see the only Great Black-headed Gull ever recorded in the UK. This bird which is a larger version of our Black-headed Gull breeds in an area stretching from Russia to Mongolia and winters in the Eastern Mediterranean, Arabia and India.

This bird was reportedly seen on the Exe estuary in June 1859. Realising it was something unusual the observers shot it! This was standard practice in Victorian times before the advent of conservation and photography. The specimen was eventually sent to the British Museum for identification and was displayed there.

The specimen of Great Black-headed Gull in Exeter Museum
Photo by Keith

When the owner died his collection passed to the museum in Exeter and the Gull returned there where it can still be seen on display.

There is much doubt over such Victorian records. You only need look at cases such as the Hastings Rarities, where many exotic birds were claimed to have been seen in the locality but which have since been shown to be improbable and have been removed from the list of species recorded in the UK.

However, there have been a number of records of Great Black-headed Gulls in Scandinavia and Holland over the years and the majority of these have occurred in May and June. In 1993, this record was re-examined by the British Records Committee who found there was no reason to disbelieve it was a genuine record. So although there has been no further confirmed record in the UK for 160 years it may turn up again one day.

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