Photo: Robert Bakelaar/Audubon Photography Awards

Herring Gull

Larus argentatus

Large, abundant, and widespread, the Herring Gull is among the most familiar members of its family, especially in the northeast. It has been extending its range toward the south along the Atlantic Coast in recent decades. In the west, where there are several similar large gulls, no such range expansion seems to be taking place.
Conservation status Numbers declined sharply during 19th century when hunted for eggs and feathers. With protection, has increased greatly during 20th century, expanding breeding range far to the south along Atlantic Coast.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Ocean coasts, bays, beaches, lakes, piers, farmlands, dumps. Wide variety of habitats, typically associated with water. Most numerous along coast and around large lakes, also along major river systems. Forages at sea, on beaches, mudflats, plowed fields, marshes, or where human activity provides food (garbage dumps, picnic grounds, docks, fishing operations). Nests on islands, sometimes on gravel roofs.
Large, abundant, and widespread, the Herring Gull is among the most familiar members of its family, especially in the northeast. It has been extending its range toward the south along the Atlantic Coast in recent decades. In the west, where there are several similar large gulls, no such range expansion seems to be taking place.
Photo Gallery
  • breeding adult withnestling
  • juvenile
  • immature (1st year)
  • immature (2nd year)
  • immature (3rd year)
  • adult, breeding
  • immature (1st year)
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • immature (1st year)
Feeding Behavior

Opportunistic. Forages while walking, swimming, or flying, dipping down to take items from surface of water or land, sometimes plunge-diving into water. May steal food from other birds. May carry hard-shelled items (such as crabs, mollusks) high in air and drop them on rocks to break them open.


Eggs

3, sometimes 1-2, rarely 4. Buff to olive, blotched with black, brown, dark olive. Incubation is by both sexes, 27-30 days. Young: May leave nest a day or two after hatching, remain in immediate area. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young capable of flight 45-50 days after hatching, may be fed by parents for another month.


Young

May leave nest a day or two after hatching, remain in immediate area. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young capable of flight 45-50 days after hatching, may be fed by parents for another month.

Diet

Omnivorous. Diet varies with place and season, includes fish, crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins, marine worms, birds, eggs, insects. Scavenges refuse and carrion. At sea, may feed on schools of fish driven to surface by foraging whales.


Nesting

Usually first breeds at age of 4-5 years. Nests in colonies (often with other species of gulls), sometimes in isolated pairs. In courtship, female approaches male with hunched posture and begging calls; male displays with upright posture, "choking" motions; feeds female. Nest site on ground, next to object such as shrub or rock which protects from prevailing wind. Nest (built by both sexes) is shallow scrape, usually lined with grass, feathers, debris.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Present year-round as far north as New England, Great Lakes, southern Alaska. Some move south as far as Mexico, a few to West Indies and Panama. Young birds tend to migrate farther south in winter than adults.

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Migration

Present year-round as far north as New England, Great Lakes, southern Alaska. Some move south as far as Mexico, a few to West Indies and Panama. Young birds tend to migrate farther south in winter than adults.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Loud rollicking call, kuk-kuk-kuk, yucca-yucca-yucca, and other raucous cries.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Gulls and Terns Gull-like Birds

Herring Gull

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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