Larus argentatus (Pontoppidan, 1763)
Family: Charadriiformes > Laridae
A quintessential sound of the seaside, the beautiful pearly-grey backed and pink-legged Herring Gull is perhaps one of our most familiar.
The Herring Gull feeds mainly on marine vertebrates and invertebrates, with Green Shore Crab being a particular favourite. It is an opportunist, however, and will eat a wide variety of food and can be found feeding in large congregations at refuse dumps, taking advantage of the food we throw away.
Once confined to the coast as a breeding bird, small numbers of Herring Gulls can now be found breeding far inland.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Herring Gull
Herring Gull identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Herring Gull.
Love them or hate them, you can't (or shouldn't) ignore gulls. Build up your gull ID skills by learning to recognise two ideal reference species from this versatile and varied family: Common Gull and Herring Gull.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Herring Gull, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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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.
The Herring Gull has declined considerably since the 1969–70 Census, with the coastal population falling by more than 50% by the time of Seabird 2000 (1998–2002). Annual monitoring suggests that further declines have occurred since Seabird 2000 and the results from the recent Seabirds Count (2015–21) are expected to confirm the severity of this decline in coastal breeding Herring Gulls (JNCC 2022). Small numbers breed inland, usually on rooftops, where they are difficult to survey; hence the status of the overall UK population is less clear. It is believed that these populations are increasing but still make up only a relatively small proportion of the UK population and that the increases in urban areas do not compensate for the declines elsewhere, but further assessment and future monitoring of urban populations is needed.
|UK winter population||-4% decrease (1995/96 to 2020/21)|
Herring Gulls are widely distributed throughout lowland areas of Britain, with the highest concentrations near the coast. In Ireland, the distribution is more coastal.. In the breeding season the distribution is predominantly coastal, but the species readiness to nest on buildings has allowed it to colonise urban areas.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||1242|
|% occupied in breeding season||41|
|No. occupied in winter||2501|
|% occupied in winter||83|
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in||Open Shore|
Relative frequency by habitat
Herring Gull breeding populations have declined significantly in size but few colonies have been completely lost. The breeding distribution change map implies that the greatest losses have been in coastal areas of western Ireland and western Scotland. Gains shown in urban areas are indicative of the divergence in trends between increasing urban and declining rural breeding populations.
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)||+36%|
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||+0.6%|
Herring Gulls are recorded throughout the year.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
Lifecycle and body size information about Herring 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
|Typical Lifespan||12 years with breeding typically at 4 year|
|Adult Survival||0.88±0.013 (Male: 0.858±0.02 Female: 0.989±0.016)|
|Juvenile Survival||0.63 (to age 4)|
|Wing Length||Adults||414.5±19.7 | Range 385–448mm, N=1125|
|Juveniles||405.7±20.1 | Range 375-440mm, N=582|
|Body Weight||Adults||971±152.3 | Range 757–1260g, N=974|
|Juveniles||957±343.273 | Range 710–1210g, N=473|
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|Field Codes||2-letter: HG | 5-letter code: HERGU | Euring: 5921|
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Interpretation and scientific publications about Herring Gull from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
The main drivers of the population changes are unclear. However, botulism is believed to be one important factor behind the declines which occurred between 1969–70 and Seabird 2000 (Mitchell et al. 2004), at a time when other seabird species including Lesser Black-backed Gull were increasing. Recent declines particularly at rural and coastal colonies may be associated with the factors that have affected other gull species: reduced breeding success resulting from reduced feeding opportunties due to closure of landfill sites and a reduction in fisheries discards (Mitchell et al. 2004; Bicknell et al. 2013). Increases in urban areas are likely to be driven by the fact that they provide both increased foraging opportunties and safe nesting sites that are relatively predator free in comparison with natural sites (Raven & Coulson 1997).
Number of coastal Herring Gull populations have reduced markedly in recent years.
Belfast’s urban gulls: an assessment of breeding populations, breeding season movements and winter population
Foraging habitat selection by breeding Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) from a declining coastal colony in the United Kingdom
Herring Gulls aren't after your chips
New BTO research using GPS tracking reveals that declining Herring Gulls are more likely to be foraging on Mussels than pilfering chips.
Includes annex: Results for Northwest England.
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