At a Glance

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.
Category
Gull-like Birds, Gulls and Terns
Conservation
Low Concern
Habitat
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Landfills and Dumps, Open Ocean, Saltwater Wetlands, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Region
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Behavior
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide, Hovering, Soaring
Population
3.900.000

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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.

Description

23-26" (58-66 cm). Adult has white spots in black wingtips, pale eyes, pink legs. Rather heavy bill is yellow with red spot. Head of adult is white in spring and summer, heavily streaked gray-brown in winter. Immature all dark brown with blackish bill at first. Reaches adult plumage in fourth winter.
Size
About the size of a Heron, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Color
Black, Brown, Gray, Pink, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Loud rollicking call, kuk-kuk-kuk, yucca-yucca-yucca, and other raucous cries.
Call Pattern
Falling, Undulating
Call Type
Raucous, Scream

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.

Behavior

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.

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.

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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Herring Gull. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

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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