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Movement patterns of immature Yellow-legged Gulls Larus michahellis from Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Xabier Remírez1*, Francisco del Campo1, Javier del Campo1 and Juan Arizaga2* ORCID logo

1 Grupo de anillamiento Aldebarán, Gran Canaria, Spain.

2 Department of Ornithology, Aranzadi Sciences Society, Donostia, Spain.

Full paper


The Yellow-legged Gull subspecies Larus michahellis atlantis is thought to be resident in the Macaronesia islands, however, the movement patterns of the population remain largely unknown. We conducted an eight-year (2010–19) ringing and re-sighting program on the island of Gran Canaria (GC), Canary Islands, with an aim of estimating the movement patterns of its gull populations. Re-sighting data revealed that most gulls were observed within 50 km of their natal sites; the farthest locality where studied gulls were seen was Dakhla (500 km from GC) in northwestern Africa. Our findings are compatible with the Yellow-legged Gulls adopting either a GC residency with some dispersal to other islands within the Canary Islands archipelago or to northern Africa, or a true partial migration strategy. Return to GC by some of the gulls that were observed outside GC suggests that philopatry to their natal site could be high, though this should be the focus of further investigation.


The Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis is the most abundant of the large, white-headed gulls (genus Larus) from the southwestern Palaearctic and the Mediterranean basin (Olsen & Larson 2004), although its global population size is unknown (BirdLife International 2021). The Yellow-legged Gull population in Europe is estimated to have an increasing trend and be between 409,000 and 534,000 pairs (Staneva & Burfield 2017). According to several genetic, morphological, observational and phenological studies (e.g. Olsen & Larson 2004; Pons et al. 2004; Howell & Dunn 2007; Adriaens et al. 2020), the ‘Macaronesian Yellow-legged Gull’ comprises a subspecies L. m. atlantis. There is controversy about the range of L. m. atlantis because some authors consider this subspecies to only breed in the Azores (Dubois 2001; Yésou 2002; Olsen 2018), while others report that the subspecies breeds in the rest of the Macaronesian islands (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Olsen & Larson 2004; Howell & Dunn 2007), and even the northwestern African coast (Collinson et al. 2008). Recent preliminary genetic studies support the theory that the subspecies breeds throughout the Macaronesian islands and northwestern Africa (Arizaga 2018), but further studies are encouraged.

The Macaronesian Yellow-legged Gull population is considered to be resident (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Olsen & Larson 2004), though the movement patterns of these gulls remain largely unknown. A recent study using global positioning system loggers (GPS) showed that gulls from Madeira did not migrate and that they depended more on terrestrial than on marine habitats (Romero et al. 2019). Preliminary studies suggest low genetic flow among the main Macaronesian archipelagos (Canary Islands, Madeira, Azores), as well as between the archipelagos and the coast of northwestern Africa (Arizaga 2018).

In the Canary Islands archipelago, the population of Yellow-legged Gulls is estimated to comprise approximately 7,000 adult breeding pairs (Lorenzo 2007), although more recent reports suggest a population decline (Arcos et al. 2022). The species breeds throughout the Canary Islands archipelago, mostly concentrated in colonies (of variable size) along the coast of both the main islands and the smaller adjacent islets (Molina et al. 2022).

Previously, two short-term ringing projects have targeted Canary Island Yellow-legged Gulls. The first was a Darvic (PVC) ringing program in Tenerife, conducted in 2007. Here, one bird that was ringed as a chick was seen on the same island (its natal colony) the following year (D. Serrano, The second project involved Darvic ringing by the Doñana Biological Station (, with ca. 100 individuals ringed in Fuerteventura (1999–2000) and 14 in Lanzarote (2009).

Here, following an eight-year ringing program carried out on the island of Gran Canaria (2010–19), we aim to estimate the dispersal and movement patterns of the Canary Island Yellow-legged Gull population. This is the first study for the Canary Islands archipelago in which a Yellow-legged Gull population is surveyed long-term, and as far as we know, the only study where the movement patterns are investigated.


Thanks to all the people who assisted us in the ringing programme, especially to ‘Asociación de Amigos de las Pardelas’. Local authorities from Gran Canaria authorized us access to excellent locations to read colour-marked gulls (Gran Canaria Island Council and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria City Council). Ringing was carried out under the license from the Canary Government. An Editorial Board member and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments that helped improve an earlier version of this work.


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