Larus armenicus

(last update: 7-9-2010)

Amir Ben Dov (Israel)
Mars Muusse (Netherlands)


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Phenotypic characterization, taxonomic rank and phylogenetic relationships of Armenian Gull Larus armenicus

Dorit Liebers & Andreas J. Helbig

published: Limicola 13-6, 1999 (in German, with English summary)

The breeding grounds for Larus armenicus can be found on the inland lakes of central Turkey, the central Armenian-Anatolian plains and northwest Iran (Haffer 1982, Cramp & Simmons 1983, Fichagov 1993). The westernmost border for the area is Tuz Golu in central Turkey, the northeastern border are Lake Sevan and Lake Arpa in Armenia (Suter 1990). The variation in phenotypic characteristics on the breeding grounds and the phylogenetic relationship among other gulls is still not clear for armenicus. Most descriptions are based on winter observations in the eastern Mediterranean in Israel, and armenicus is sometimes given full species status, but also sometimes classified as sub-species of Herring Gull L. argentatus. The features to distinguish armenicus from other large white-headed gulls are black sub-terminal band on the bill (on both upper and lower mandible) or just a black marking on the upper mandible, overall body size relatively small, relatively short bill, steep forehead, rounded head-shape, dark iris, much black on the outer primaries, and a white mirror on P10, but not on P9 (Hume 1983, Grant 1987, Satat & Laird 1992, Shirihai & Christie 1996, Beaman & Madge 1998). However, exceptions have been described for all of these features, e.g. lack of black on the bill has been documented by Madge (1990). Frede & Langbehn (1997) state that “No adult summer plumage bird shows solid, well-demarcated, black sub-terminal band on the bill. The band is either absent or very faint”. This strongly contradicts with the findings of Filchagov (1993) and Buzun (1993a). Although it is definitely true that winter plumage birds show more and more intense black on the bill, it can also be found in summer plumage birds. Black markings on the bill have been documented (Hirschfeld 1992, Doherty 1992, Yesou & Hirschfeld 1997), even in breeding full adult birds of other gull taxa, like barabensis and heuglini (Rauste 1999, pers obs authors). In L. cachinnans from the Asow see, 51% of breeding birds (n = 239) show limited or well-marked black on the bill (Liebers & Dierschke 1997).

In the twentieth century, the only publication on armenicus from the breeding grounds dealt with structure, grey tone and population size (Filchagov 1993, see also Buzun 1993a). Data was used from the Lake Sevan in Armenia. In this publication, armenicus is compared to eastern taxa (cachinnans, barabensis, heuglini), and not with the geographically and probably most closely related Yellow-legged Gull michahellis.

below: Adult Armenian Gulls Larus armenicus June 1999, Carpanak Island, Van Golu, Turkey. Picture: Andreas J. Helbig.