Relict Gull (Ichthyaetus relictus)

Relict Gull

[order] CHARADRIIFORMES | [family] Laridae | [latin] Ichthyaetus relictus | [UK] Relict Gull | [FR] Mouette relique | [DE] Reliktmowe | [ES] Gaviota de Mongolia | [NL] Relictmeeuw


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

The Relict Gull falls between Black-headed Larus ridibindus and Common GullLarus canus kamtschatschensis in size, but appears rather longer-necked, more pigeon-chested, and and perhaps proportionately shorter-legged with smallish feet, than either of these species. Winter adults are perhaps more easily overlooked as Black-headed Gull, being largely white-headed with only variable grayish spotting on the nape, dark reddish legs and a bi-colored bill: deep red base and darker distal half. The structure and primary pattern is, however, typically distinctive showing quite prominent Saunders’s Gull Larus saundersi-like white tips at rest, and a broad black wing-tip (closest to Common Gull) in flight

wingspan min.: 0 cm wingspan max.: 0 cm
size min.: 44 cm size max.: 45 cm
incubation min.: 0 days incubation max.: 0 days
fledging min.: 0 days fledging max.: 0 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 4  


Eurasia : Central. Larus relictus breeds at two localities in eastern Kazakhstan (but regularly at only one), one in Russia and several in Mongolia, whilst the largest colonies are thought to occur in China, at Honjian Nur Lake, Shaanxi (up to 5000 pairs) and previously at Taolimiao-Alashan Nur on the Ordos Plateau in Inner Mongolia (up to 3000 pairs), although this site was recently abandoned. Its non-breeding range is poorly understood, but some are known to winter in South Korea, whist large numbers (up to 3500) have recently been found at Bothai Bay on the coast of eastern China.


All known breeding colonies are below 1,500 m, in the arid-steppe zone, on islands in saline and slightly saline lakes with fluctuating water-levels. No nesting occurs if lakes dry up, if the islands become joined to the shore, or if the water-level is too high and the islands become too small or overgrown with vegetation. Some important non-breeding sites are on estuarine mud and sandflats.


It nests in colonies changing the nest site each year and failing to breed if the water level surrounding the nest-islands is too low or too high. They lay between one and four eggs each year if conditions are suitable.

Feeding habits

Changes in water-level affect breeding success, and the loss of ephemeral wetland habitats in arid regions, associated with climate change, could greatly affect this species in the near future.Competition for breeding sites and predation by other gulls, as well as mortality from hailstorms and flooding, can affect breeding productivity. Human disturbance has caused increased mortality of eggs and chicks in Russia and China, by making them vulnerable to bad weather, predation and desertion. The major breeding colony at Taolimiao-Alashan Nur, China, has been affected by recent tourist developments. In South Korea, most of the mudflats at the Nakdong estuary have been reclaimed and it is likely that many other coastal wetlands are under similar pressure from development. The major wintering area at Bothai Bay, China, has been affected by reclamation for oilfields, harbours, roads and other developments, and plans are in hand to reclaim 43% of the remaining habitat.


This species is listed as Vulnerable because it has a small and fluctuating population, breeding at a very small number of wetland locations in arid regions that could be strongly influenced by changes in climate. With such a restricted breeding distribution it is therefore susceptible to stochastic effects and human impacts. The population is also thought to be declining as a result of reclamation of coastal wetlands for development, and human disturbance on breeding grounds that has caused increased mortality of eggs and chicks.
Relict Gull status Vulnerable


he relict gull breeds in eastern Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and China, and is thought to winter in several countries nearby, including South Korea and China

Distribution map

Relict Gull distribution range map

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