Gulls, Terns, Skimmer

Black-bellied Tern

A small but very long-tailed tern with black underparts, a slender build and long, deep orange bill that distinguishes it from River. Black cap, rather dark grey upperparts, white face, neck and upperparts. Underparts, black from lower breast to vent (unlike Whiskered which has a whitish vent at all times). Sexes alike.

Little Tern

A tiny tern with white forehead and black-tipped yellow bill. Pale grey back and wings with dark outer primary. Forehead patch extends as point above eye. Yellow legs. In non-breeding plumage, bill black and black crown reduced. Sexes alike. Similar but marine Saunder’s Tern S. saundersi has square-ended forehead patch, more black in primaries and browner legs.

Brown-headed Gull

A medium-sized, pale gull with large white spots in black wing tips. Adult is pearly-grey above and white below, with chocolate brown partial hood in breeding plumage, reducing to earmark when not breeding. First years have brownish in wings and black tail bars. Has very pale irises and white eye rings. Sexes alike. Scavenges, e especially fish waste from humans, robs terns but also catches flying and surface insects. Light, easy flight. Swims buoyantly, often among ducks and Coots. Breeds colonially in high-altitude bogs.

Pallas’s Gull

A big, pale, deep-chested, long-winged gull with long-sloping forehead and strong black and orangetipped yellow bill. Breeding adult has black head and white eye rings. In non-breeders head turns dusky. Pale grey above with whiter outer wing and few black wing spots near tips. Immature browner but still pale and shows grey mantle and wing panel. Often solitary, but readily mixes with smaller gulls and terns. Scavenges fish waste and robs others for fish. Heavy buoyant heron-like flight.

Indian Skimmer

Sexes alike, but female slightly smaller. Slender, pointed-winged and tern-like Pied plumage, blackish-brown above, contrasting with white underbody; white forehead, neck-collar and wing bar; diagnostic yellowish-orange beak, with much longer lower mandible; red legs. Solitary or loose flocks fly over water;  characteristic hunting style is to skim over calm waters, beak wide open, the longer projecting lower mandible partly submerged at an angle, to snap up fish on striking; many rest together on sandbars.

Whiskered Tern

Sexes alike. Black markings on crown; silvery-grey-white plumage; long, narrow wings and slightly forked, almost squarish tail; short red legs and red beak
distinctive. Summer: jet-black cap and snow-white cheeks (whiskers); black belly. At rest, closed wings extend beyond tail. Large numbers fly about a marsh or tidal creek, leisurely but methodically, beak pointed down; dive from about 5m height but turn when just about to touch the ground, picking up insects in the process; also hunts flying insects over standing crops.

River Tern

Sexes alike. Very light grey above; jet-black cap and nape, when breeding; white below; narrow, pointed wings; deeply-forked tail; bright yellow, pointed beak and red legs diagnostic. In winter, black on crown and nape reduced to flecks. Solitary or small flocks, flying about erratically; keeps to riversides, calm waters, large tanks; scans over water, plunging if possible prey is sighted; rests on river banks, noisy and aggressive, especially at nesting colonies (March to mid-June).