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Herring Gull by Rob Miller

Herring Gull

Larus argentatus

Key Facts

  • Length: 55-67cm
  • Wingspan: 1.4m
  • Weight: 950-1,200g
  • Average Lifespan: 12 years

Swooping in and stealing your chips, the herring gull is the ‘typical seagull’ and is a familiar sight at any seaside town, particularly during the breeding season.

In winter it can be found on farmland, wetland and coastal habitats, inland rubbish tips, school playing fields and reservoirs throughout Britain. A large gull, it is similar in appearance to the common gull but sports a red spot on its bill. This red spot spurred one of the classic studies in animal behaviour in the 1950s, led by Niko Tinbergen. Having seen gull chicks peck at their parents’ bills to encourage them to regurgitate food, he tried various dummy, parent shapes and colours to see the chicks’ response. He discovered that gull chicks will peck at any long, yellow thing with a red spot in order to get food – in other words, gull chicks have a built-in preference from birth for their parents’ bills; a worthwhile survival mechanism.

How to Identify

Gulls can be very difficult to tell apart, especially immature birds. Adult herring gulls are silvery-grey above and white below with pink legs. They have a white head (streaky during the winter) and black wingtips with white spots. They have a yellow bill with a red spot.

Where to Find

Widespread. Nests around the coast on cliff tops, rooftops and islands.

How People Can Help

Despite the seemingly common sound of the seagull at the seashore or the expected sight of a flock of seagulls at the local tip, populations of herring gulls have dramatically declined in recent years. Over half of the UK breeding population is now confined to just ten sites. The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of ‘Living Seas’ where marine wildlife thrives. This work has recently had a massive boost with the passing of the Marine Bill, promising sustainable development of the UK’s marine environment. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.

Did you know?

Herring gulls were once thought to be a common gull right round the northern hemisphere. However, in recent years, scientists have realised that there are in fact several, very similar, closely related species of ‘herring gull’ including the yellow-legged gull, the American herring gull, the Caspian gull and our own, European herring gull.

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