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.
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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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Herring 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 facing the Herring 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.

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