Conservation status Numbers apparently stable. Not affected by human activities as much as some of the larger gulls.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Coastal waters in winter, lakes in summer. Along Pacific Coast, concentrates in winter around river mouths and lagoons, and freshwater ponds near the shore. Not as common at garbage dumps as many larger gulls, and seldom occurs any distance offshore. In summer, mostly around lakes in northern forest.
Of several similar gulls having white heads and black wingtips with white spots, this one is the smallest. Its small bill and dark eyes give it a gentle expression. Mew Gulls are common all along the Pacific Coast in winter, but they spend the summer in Alaska and northwestern Canada, where they are often seen perched on top of spruce trees. Other races live in Europe and Asia, and European birds rarely stray to our Atlantic Coast in winter.

Feeding Behavior

Forages while walking, wading, or swimming, or dips down to surface of water in flight. May catch flying insects in the air. Sometimes carries hard-shelled mollusks into the air and drops them on rocks to break them open.


3, sometimes 2. Olive to buff, blotched with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, 23-28 days. Young: May leave ground nests when a few days old but remain nearby. Both parents feed young. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.


May leave ground nests when a few days old but remain nearby. Both parents feed young. Age at first flight about 5 weeks.


Omnivorous. Diet may be mostly small fish along coast, mostly insects around inland lakes, but also eats crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins, earthworms, small rodents, young birds of other species, carrion, refuse. May eat many berries in late summer, and eats grain at times.


Breeds in small colonies or in isolated pairs. In courtship, female approaches male who holds territory, in hunched posture, wagging head from side to side. Nest site is on high ground near water, or on top of stump or dense low spruce up to 20' above ground. May build floating nest in marsh; in Europe, may nest on gravel roofs. Ground nest is shallow scrape lined with grass; tree nest is platform or shallow cup of twigs, grasses. Both sexes help build nest.

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

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Inland breeders apparently move directly to coast and then south; rarely found inland south of breeding range. Fall migration is relatively late, not reaching many wintering areas until November.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

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

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Songs and Calls

A high mewing kee-yer.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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