Herring Gull

Larus argentatus (Pontoppidan, 1763) HG HERGU 5921
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.


Herring Gull identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Herring Gull.

related video

Identifying Common & Herring Gull

Herring Gull. Photograph by Edmund Fellowes

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.



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.

Browse training courses

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.


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

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


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


Herring Gulls are recorded throughout the year.

Weekly occurence of Herring 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.


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


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


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

Gaelic: Faoileag-an-sgadain
Welsh: Gwylan Penwaig
Catalan: gavià argentat de potes rosa
Czech: racek stríbritý
Danish: Sølvmåge
Dutch: Zilvermeeuw
Estonian: hõbekajakas
Finnish: harmaalokki
French: Goéland argenté
German: Silbermöwe
Hungarian: ezüstsirály
Icelandic: Silfurmáfur
Irish: Faoileán Scadán
Italian: Gabbiano reale nordico
Latvian: sudrabkaija
Lithuanian: sidabrinis kiras
Norwegian: Gråmåke
Polish: mewa srebrzysta
Portuguese: gaivota-argêntea
Slovak: cajka striebristá
Slovenian: srebrni galeb
Spanish: Gaviota argéntea europea
Swedish: gråtrut


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).


Research Reports

Assessing habitat use of Herring Gulls in the Morecambe Bay SPA using GPS tracking devices

2018 | Chris B Thaxter, Gary Clewley, Lee Barber, Greg J Conway, Nigel A Clark, Emily S Scragg, Niall H K Burton

Number of coastal Herring Gull populations have reduced markedly in recent years.

Research Reports
Tagged gull in flight by Katherine Booth Jones

Belfast’s urban gulls: an assessment of breeding populations, breeding season movements and winter population

2022 | Booth Jones, K., Thaxter, C., Clewley, G., Wolsey, S., Calbrade, N., Atkinson, P., Calladine, J. & Burton, N.

Peer-reviewed papers
Herring Gull. John Harding

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

2021 | Clewley, G. D., Barber, L.J., Conway, G.J., Clark, N.A., Donato, B.J., Thaxter, C.B. & Burton, N.H.K.Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science

New BTO research using GPS tracking reveals that declining Herring Gulls are more likely to be foraging on Mussels than pilfering chips.

Research Reports

Urban Breeding Gull Surveys: A Survey Design Simulation

2017 | Chris B. Thaxter, Cat Horswill, Kathryn E. Ross, Graham E. Austin, Dawn E. Balmer and Niall H.K. Burton

Includes annex: Results for Northwest England.

Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com

Would you like to search for another species?

Help us collect data and improve this page for Herring Gull

Help monitor the UK’s threatened gull species by taking part in the Winter Gull Survey.

Join Winter Gull Survey today