This small black-headed gull breeds on scattered saline lakes throughout central and northern Asia, as far east as Mongolia and northeastern China. However, it is seldom seen on its breeding grounds due to their remoteness. It winters in estuaries, beaches, and mudflats, where adults shed their handsome dark hoods for smudgy “earmuffs.” First winter birds are similar, but have light brown speckling on the wings (solid gray in adults, save for black-and-white tips). Stubbier-billed than Black-headed Gull and generally paler-headed than Saunders's Gull.
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