Great Black-backed Gull

Larus marinus (Linnaeus, 1758) GB GBBGU 6000
Family: Charadriiformes > Laridae

This impressive gull can be seen at coastal locations throughout the year, but it is less commonly encountered at inland sites.

Although Great Black-backed Gulls breed at coastal sites around much of our coast, they are absent from most of the North Sea coast. The highest breeding season densities are to be found around the Northern Isles, north-west Scotland and the Atlantic coast of south-west Ireland.

The pronounced pattern of winter abundance, which is greatest in the eastern half of Britain, underlines the arrival of wintering individuals from Scandinavia. Ringing data link these birds with populations in Norway and Sweden.


Great Black-backed Gull identification is sometimes difficult. The following article may help when identifying Great Black-backed Gull.

related video

Identifying adult black-backed gulls

On paper Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls are straightforward to separate but, in reality, many of us struggle - especially as the light conditions can alter their colour and size is not always apparent. Watch our video to tell these two species apart, as well as differentiate them from Herring Gull.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Great Black-backed Gull, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Flight call

Alarm call

Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



Numbers of Great Black-backed Gull remained relatively stable between the 1969–70 Census and Seabird 2000 (1998–2002), with a very shallow decline of 11% (JNCC 2022). Since Seabird 2000, annual monitoring suggests that this shallow decline may have continued although this is uncertain due to wide confidence limits and the recent trend may be stable: the latest Census results (2015–2021) may help clarify the trend once they are available (JNCC 2022). The Great Black-backed Gull remains almost exclusively a coastal-breeding species, although a very small number of pairs have been recorded at inland colonies (Balmer et al. 2013).


Wintering Great Black-backed Gulls occur all around the coast of Britain & Ireland, as well as at inland, lowland sites in England and Scotland. Breeding birds have a predominantly coastal distribution around both Britain and Ireland, though they are largely absent from most of the North Sea coast between Lothian and Kent.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Breeding Season Habitats

Relative frequency by habitat

Relative occurrence in different habitat types during the breeding season.

>Bar of similar size indicate the species is equally likely to be recorded in those habitats


There has been a substantial 30% range contraction in Ireland since the 1968–72 Breeding Atlas, though much of this loss occurred between 1968–72 and 1988–91. A recent contraction is apparent in western Scotland but is outweighed by gains elsewhere in Britain, especially along the English south coast. Since the 1988–91 Breeding Atlas there has been a 7% increase in the number of 10-km squares occupied in Britain & Ireland.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Great Black-backed Gulls are recorded throughout the year.

Weekly occurence of Great Black-backed Gull from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Great Black-backed Gull ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Great Black-backed Gull, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Farspag
Welsh: Gwylan Gefnddu Fawr
Catalan: gavinot atlàntic
Czech: racek morský
Danish: Svartbag
Dutch: Grote Mantelmeeuw
Estonian: merikajakas
Finnish: merilokki
French: Goéland marin
German: Mantelmöwe
Hungarian: dolmányos sirály
Icelandic: Svartbakur
Irish: Droimneach Mór
Italian: Mugnaiaccio
Latvian: melnsparnu kaija, kilens
Lithuanian: balnuotasis kiras
Norwegian: Svartbak
Polish: mewa siodlata
Portuguese: gaivotão-real
Slovak: cajka morská
Slovenian: veliki galeb
Spanish: Gavión atlántico
Swedish: havstrut
Folkname: Land Gull


Interpretation and scientific publications about Great Black-backed Gull from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The Great Black-backed Gull has not suffered the substantial declines in populations that have recently affected several other UK seabirds including coastal breeding Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. It has been surmised that this species out-competes other species when scavenging for fishery discards and offal and therefore may continue to be able to benefit from these resources despite reductions in availability which have affected other species (Mitchell et al. 2004).

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