Photo: A. Binns/Vireo

Western Gull

Larus occidentalis

The only gull nesting along most of the Pacific Coast from Washington to Baja, this large species is common at all seasons. An opportunist, it often nests around colonies of other seabirds, where it can steal unguarded eggs or chicks. It will also nest near colonies of California sea lions, scavenging any sea lion pups that die of natural causes. At the northern end of its range it hybridizes with Glaucous-winged Gull, and many intermediate birds are seen.
Conservation status Common, and numbers apparently stable. Nesting at some colonies has been impacted in the past by effects of pesticides in the food chain.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Coastal waters, estuaries, beaches, city waterfronts. Mostly along immediate coast, but regularly found well out at sea, especially between coast and nesting islands. Visits garbage dumps, ponds, and flat open areas (such as parking lots) within a few miles of coast, but almost never found farther inland. Nests on islands and locally on mainland cliffs.
The only gull nesting along most of the Pacific Coast from Washington to Baja, this large species is common at all seasons. An opportunist, it often nests around colonies of other seabirds, where it can steal unguarded eggs or chicks. It will also nest near colonies of California sea lions, scavenging any sea lion pups that die of natural causes. At the northern end of its range it hybridizes with Glaucous-winged Gull, and many intermediate birds are seen.
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Feeding Behavior

forages while walking or swimming, or may plunge into water from flight. May drop hard-shelled clams and crabs onto rocks while in flight to break them open.


Eggs

Usually 3, sometimes 1-5, rarely 6. Clutches of more than 3 eggs result from 2 females laying in same nest, which happens fairly often at some colonies. Eggs buff to olive or gray, blotched with darker brown. Incubation at normal nests is by both parents (female may do more), 25-29 days. In very hot weather, adults may fly to water and soak belly feathers to cool eggs. Young: Fed by both parents. May leave nest when a few days old and hide in nearby vegetation. Capable of flight at about 6-7 weeks after hatching. Young depart from some colonies at about 10 weeks, becoming independent then; at other colonies, young may be fed by parents longer.


Young

Fed by both parents. May leave nest when a few days old and hide in nearby vegetation. Capable of flight at about 6-7 weeks after hatching. Young depart from some colonies at about 10 weeks, becoming independent then; at other colonies, young may be fed by parents longer.

Diet

Fish and other marine life, eggs, carrion, refuse. Feeds on a wide variety of aquatic life, including fish, crabs, squid, clams, sea urchins. Eats eggs and young (and sometimes adults) of other birds. Around sea lion colonies, scavenges dead pups and afterbirth. Also eats other carrion, and scavenges in dumps and around docks for refuse.


Nesting

First breeds at 4 years or older. Nests in colonies. Nest site is on ground or on cliff ledge, sometimes on boat or building, sometimes under overhanging rock. Nest (probably built by both sexes) is shallow depression, usually with lining of grass, other plants.

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

Migration

Present all year throughout its breeding range, but banding records show that individuals wander widely within this range. Some move north into British Columbia and south to southern Baja, especially in winter. Almost never found inland.

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Migration

Present all year throughout its breeding range, but banding records show that individuals wander widely within this range. Some move north into British Columbia and south to southern Baja, especially in winter. Almost never found inland.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Squeals and raucous notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Western 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 Western 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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