At a Glance
Part of a complex of similar gulls, this bird closely resembles the Herring Gull or Ring-billed Gull, and is intermediate between those two in size. It nests around lakes in the interior of the west, and winters commonly along the Pacific Coast, including offshore waters. This was the species that came to the rescue of the Mormon settlers whose crops were threatened by a grasshopper plague in 1848, inspiring the seagull monument in Salt Lake City.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Gull-like Birds, Gulls and Terns
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Landfills and Dumps, Saltwater Wetlands, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
From breeding grounds in interior, most migrate west or southwest to Pacific Coast. Surprisingly few move south to Gulf Coast; extremely rare east to Atlantic Coast. Birds too young to breed may remain along Pacific Coast through the summer.
20-23" (51-58 cm). W. 54 (137 cm). Between Herring and Ring-billed Gulls in size. Adult slightly darker gray on back than either, with dark eyes, greenish yellow legs, black and red spots on yellow bill. In flight, shows large white spots in black wingtips. Immatures all dark brown at first, like Herring but smaller, and with thinner bill that is sharply pink at base. Changes with seasons; reaches adult plumage in fourth winter.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Long, Narrow, Pointed, Tapered
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
A repetitive kee-yah.
Seacoasts, lakes, farms, urban centers. Breeds in the interior at lakes and marshes, often foraging for insects around farms, plowed fields. Some winter inland around major lakes and rivers, but most are coastal at that season, frequenting beaches, docks, garbage dumps, fields. Sometimes common well offshore in winter.
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2-3, sometimes 1-5. Clutches of more than 3 result from 2 females laying in same nest. Eggs brown, olive, gray, or buff, blotched with dark brown or gray. Incubation is by both parents, 23-27 days. Young: May leave nest when a few days old, but remain in immediate area. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young can fly at about 45 days after hatching.
May leave nest when a few days old, but remain in immediate area. Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Young can fly at about 45 days after hatching.
Forages while walking, wading, swimming, or flying. May hover and dip down to pick items from surface of land or water. Sometimes follows plow in farm fields to pick up insects exposed in the furrows.
Varied, includes insects, fish, eggs, refuse. Summer diet inland is mostly insects; also worms, spiders, rodents, eggs and young of other birds, and carrion. On coast, eats fish and other marine life, also scavenges for refuse around garbage dumps, fishing piers.
Breeds in colonies, sometimes very large, and sometimes mixed with Ring-billed Gulls or other birds; the nests may be quite close together. Nest site is on ground near lake or marsh, often on island. Nest (built by both sexes) is shallow depression, usually lined with weeds, grass, debris, feathers.
Has increased in many areas during recent decades.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the California Gull. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the California 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.