Brown-headed Gulls

Brown-headed Gulls

-Thomas Chacko

God's Own country, Kerala still has a few beaches tucked away in apparent anonymity which can spring a surprise on nature lovers.  So it happened, when I took a stroll on the Nattika beach (Trichur Dist-made famous in the film "Chemmeen"). 

It was the last week of March, time for any winter visitors to start their long journeys back.  But I was lucky!  Suddenly came across this mixed flock of brown-headed and black-headed gulls in a desolate corner.

A quick reference to Salim Ali's book of Indian Birds told me that these winter visitors are from Ladakh.  They normally arrive in September/October and depart in April. The black-headed gull assumes a dark coffee coloured head by end of March prior to migration, read the description by Salim Ali. That explains the few black heads in the
flock.  I could also spot a few river terns which can be seen among the gulls and of course, do not miss the ever present plastic bottle on our beaches!

The brown -headed gull (wave crow or vichikaka in Malayalam) was also described in the book Birds of Western Ghats, Konkan and Malabar by Satish Pande and others.
"White wing-tip mirrors, yellow iris, grey-black underwings.  Head pale brown when breeding.  These masters of wind pick food from the water surface, maneuvering with their broad wings and square tail. 

Swim well with webbed toes, elegantly riding the waves in the roughest weather. Clams and crustaceans are reportedly dropped on rocks and hard ground to break them open.Their distribution is on the coasts of Konkan and Malabar, though nesting sites are high up in the Himalayas."

From the same book I also found these cultural notes.  Brown- headed gulls are featured in the epic Mahabharata.  Sanskrit names Damar and Kharshbdakurar indicate their noisy nature. 

A statue of the gulls is erected at Salt Lake City, Uta(U.S.A) in appreciation of their help during the famine when they devoured locusts and saved the remaining crop.

More details of this monument is available at

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