Lesser Black-backed Gull
At a Glance
Once a rare stray to North America, this European gull has become a very common visitor here. Thousands are found every winter (with smaller numbers at other seasons), mainly along the Atlantic Coast south to Florida and inland to the Great Lakes, but with smaller numbers all across the continent. This increase undoubtedly is related to the growing population of the species in Iceland, where it first nested in the 1920s and is now present by the thousands, and in Greenland, where it is a more recent arrival. Similar in appearance and habits to the Herring Gull, but slightly smaller, and may be more agile in flight.
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, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Landfills and Dumps, Saltwater Wetlands
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Texas
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
May be found in North America during every month of the year, but largest numbers are seen during winter. Some move quite far south: common in Florida, regular in coastal Texas and parts of the Caribbean. Most of those wintering in North America probably come from Iceland and Greenland.
23" (58 cm). Adult is like Herring Gull but with back and wings noticeably darker gray, legs yellow. Immatures are very much like young Herring Gulls until back color begins to show.
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 strident kyow; deeper than that of Herring Gull.
Beaches, bays, coasts, garbage dumps. Mostly along coast, including bays, estuaries, coastal islands; also around lakes inland, especially Great Lakes and elsewhere in northeast. Concentrates around sources of food, such as garbage dumps, fishing harbors.
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(3, sometimes 1-4) brown or olive to blue-green, usually blotched with dark brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 24-27 days. Young: Both parents feed young. Downy young may leave nest after a few days, but remain in vicinity. Age at first flight about 30-40 days.
Both parents feed young. Downy young may leave nest after a few days, but remain in vicinity. Age at first flight about 30-40 days.
Forages by swooping down to sea surface in flight, or picks up items while swimming, walking, or wading. May steal food from other birds.
Omnivorous. Diet includes a wide variety of fish, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, marine worms, small birds, nestlings, eggs, rodents; also eats berries, seeds, seaweed. Also scavenges refuse around garbage dumps.
Not yet established as a nesting bird in North America, although single birds have paired up with Herring Gulls at a couple of colonies. Usually first breeds at age of 4 years. Nests in colonies. Nest site on ground, sometimes on cliff ledge or on roof of building. Nest (built by both sexes) a mound of grasses, seaweed, debris, with shallow depression at top lined with finer materials.
Numbers and distribution have expanded greatly during the last century.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Lesser Black-backed Gull. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Lesser Black-backed 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.