Conservation status Future of North American nesting population still uncertain, but species is abundant across Europe and Asia.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Mostly coastal waters. In North America mostly along coast, on protected bays, shallow estuaries; generally rare on fresh waters well inland. In Eurasia found commonly on fresh marshes, lakes, ponds in interior, especially during summer.
One of the most abundant gulls in Europe and Asia, and a recent invader to North America. It was first recorded on this continent in the 1920s and 1930s, and first found nesting in Newfoundland in 1977. Still mostly a winter visitor to tidewater areas in the northeast, and a summer visitor to western Alaska.

Feeding Behavior

Versatile in feeding. Searches for food while walking or swimming, or swoops down to take items from surface while flying; sometimes catches insects in high flight. Black-headed Gulls also steal food from each other and from other birds.


2-3, sometimes 1-4. Variable, gray-green to tan or yellowish, blotched with brown or olive. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-26 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Young may leave nest after about 10 days but remain in general area; capable of flight at about 5 weeks, and independent soon thereafter.


Both parents feed young. Young may leave nest after about 10 days but remain in general area; capable of flight at about 5 weeks, and independent soon thereafter.


Omnivorous. Eats mostly animal material, including wide variety of insects, also earthworms, marine worms, mollusks, crustaceans, small fish, carrion. During summer may eat many seeds and small fruits.


Usually nests in colonies, sometimes in isolated pairs. Nest site is usually on ground among vegetation, sometimes on bare soil or above ground. Nest (built by both sexes) usually a scrape lined with bits of plant material, sometimes a mound with depression at top.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Of the hundreds that winter in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia (and the dozens that winter elsewhere in the northeast), most probably come from Iceland: the appearance of the species in eastern North America followed a sudden growth of the Icelandic nesting population in the 1930s. Strays from Asia also show up regularly in Alaska.

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

A harsh kwup; various squealing notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Black-headed Gull

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

Climate threats facing the Black-headed Gull

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.