Unusual coastal breeding in the desert-nesting Gray Gull (Leucophaeus modestus) in northern Chile

Roberto Aguilar, Alejandro Simeone, Jürgen Rottmann, Marietta Perucci, Guillermo Luna-Jorquera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The Gray Gull (Leucophaeus modestus) has the unique habit among gulls of nesting in the interior Atacama Desert, up to 100 km from the coast. During the 2014-2015 austral breeding season, two breeding colonies were recorded on the coast within 90 m of the shoreline in the Antofagasta Region, northern Chile. The new colonies ranged in size from 40 (Playa Grande) to 150 (Playa Brava) nests. Egg laying was synchronous in both colonies and most likely occurred in late November 2014, coinciding with egg laying in desert colonies. The colony at Playa Brava was successful, but the one at Playa Grande was deserted due to feral dog (Canis familiaris) attacks. The habitat used by Gray Gulls resembled that reported for desert colonies, with flat plains covered with small rocks, which provide protection to chicks from intense solar radiation. This unusual coastal nesting behavior could result in the modification of certain life history and behavioral traits in the Gray Gull (e.g., chick growth rates, energy expenditure, and foraging ranges), which have evolved to breed in severe desert conditions. We suggest that coastal breeding is adopted by Gray Gulls during El Niño years in response to reduced food supply. During El Niño years, Gray Gulls would move to the coast where access to food is better and thermoregulatory costs are lower, but predation is higher. During non-El Niño years, Gray Gulls would resume their ancestral desert-nesting strategy in which traveling distances between the coast and nesting grounds are considerable and thermoregulatory costs are higher, but predation risks are lower. Future observations should confirm if Gray Gulls continue breeding at coastal sites during El Niño years or if this becomes a regular behavior independent of oceanographic conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-73
Number of pages5
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • El Niño
  • Gray Gull
  • Leucophaeus modestus
  • breeding biology
  • coastal nesting
  • desert nesting
  • northern Chile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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