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Larus cirrocephalus (Grey-headed gull) 

Gryskopmeeu [Afrikaans]; Grijskopmeeuw [Dutch]; Mouette à tête grise [French]; Graukopfmöwe [German]; Gaivota-de-cabeça-cinzenta [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Laridae >  Genus: Larus

Larus cirrocephalus (Grey-headed gull)  Larus cirrocephalus (Grey-headed gull) 
Grey-headed gull in breeding plumage, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Grey-headed gull in breeding plumage, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Larus cirrocephalus (Grey-headed gull)  Larus cirrocephalus (Grey-headed gull) 
Grey-headed gull in non-breeding plumage, Strandfontein Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Grey-headed gull in non-breeding plumage, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, with two separate populations in the continent, one in west Africa and the other extending from Sudan and Ethiopia south through Uganda, Tanzania, eastern DRC, Zambia and Angola to southern Africa. Within southern Africa it is fairly common in western and northern Namibia (including the Caprivi Strip), northern Botswana, north-western Zimbabwe, eastern Mozambique and central and southern South Africa. It generally prefers coastal islands, estuaries, lagoons, harbours, pans, dams, fresh and alkaline lakes, large rivers and sewage ponds.

Distribution of Grey-headed gull in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Resident and sedentary when breeding but often travelling widely in the non-breeding season.


Like most gulls it is a highly opportunistic feeder, mainly eating aquatic invertebrates as well as a variety of small vertebrates. It does most of its foraging in flocks over water, plucking prey from the surface or moving to rubbish dumps and picnic sites to feed on food scraps. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, colonial nester, breeding in colonies ranging from a few to several hundred pairs spaced 1-4 metres apart, often fighting with other each other in defence of their territories. It may also join mixed-species colonies along with Kelp gulls, Hartlaub's gulls, Caspian terns, Swift terns and/or Goliath herons.
  • The nest (see image below) is a a shallow bowl of grass, twigs and weeds often adjacent to a grass tuft or some other plant. It may also use the old nest of a Red-knobbed coot or alternatively build a floating platform of lily leaves and sedges.
Larus cirrocephalus (Grey-headed gull)   

Grey-headed gull nest with eggs, Kamfer's Dam, Kimberley, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is mainly from July-October in Botswana and Zimbabwe, May-June in Gauteng and from February-November in KwaZulu-Natal.
  • It lays 1-3 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes starting from the first egg.
  • The chicks flee the nest if disturbed and can run freely within a day of hatching, while their parents may attack intruders (such as humans) if they get to close.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.