Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)


Relict Gull (Larus relictus)


French: Mouette relique German: Reliktmöwe Spanish: Gaviota relicta

Larus melanocephalus relictus


, 1931,

Inner Mongolia


Some recent authors place this species and other “black-headed gulls” in genus Ichthyaetus (see L. ichthyaetus). Present species originally described as a race of L. melanocephalus, and then known only from one specimen; subsequently suspected of being an aberrant L. brunnicephalus or a hybrid L. brunnicephalus × L. ichthyaetus. Since breeding colonies discovered in 1970, almost universally considered a distinct species. Monotypic.


E Kazakhstan (L Balkhash, L Alakol)#R, E Russia (L Barun-Torey, in S Transbaikalia), Mongolia, and China (where largest colonies thought to exist) in Inner Mongolia (Edsin Gol at Tsondol, Taolimiao–Alashan Nur, Maowusu Desert) and Shaanxi (Honjian Nur)#R#R#R. Winter quarters still essentially unknown: some winter in S Korea; large numbers recorded at Bohai Bay (E China)#R, and there is evidence that some winter inland on the N Qinghai–Tibet plateau.

Descriptive notes

39–45 cm; 420–665 g. Size of L. melanocephalus and has similar summer head pattern, hooked bill tip and long legs, but differs in wingtip pattern and... read more


Reportedly similar to L. melanocephalus. Breeding birds produce a short, trisyllabic “kaw... read more


Breeds on shores or small islands of arid, usually saline, montane lakes, either on low-lying... read more

Food and feeding

Feeds with quick, plover-like steps. Known to take mainly insects, beetles, small fish and crustaceans; sometimes small birds and mammals (... read more


Highly gregarious. Returns to colonies early Apr to mid May; lays from early May. Mating reported to occur outside the colony, and also on... read more


Migratory. Young birds show post-breeding dispersal around their colony, before beginning migration... read more

Status and conservation

VULNERABLE. CITES I. One of the scarcest of gulls but the discovery of more than 7000 nesting pairs in the Ordos Highlands of W Inner Mongolia and N China in 2010–... read more

Recommended citation

Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Sharpe, C.J. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Relict Gull (Larus relictus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 23 February 2020).