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Western Gull

Larus occidentalis ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A large, dark-backed gull of the Pacific Coast, the Western Gull is seldom found far from the ocean.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
22–26 in
56–66 cm
Wingspan
47.2–56.7 in
120–144 cm
Weight
28.2–44.1 oz
800–1250 g
Other Names
  • Goéland d'Audubon (French)
  • Gaviota occidental (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Like most gulls, the Western Gull is an opportunistic feeder, capturing its own live prey, scavenging refuse, or stealing food from seals and other gulls. It is known to steal milk from lactating female seals while they lie on their backs sleeping on the beach.
  • The Western Gull hybridizes extensively with the Glaucous-winged Gull, with the hybrids being the most common form in Washington. The hybrids can be similar to the parent adult forms, but usually have intermediate back and wingtip coloring. With the medium-gray back, dark upper surface to wingtips, frosty white undersurface to wingtips and a darkish eye, a hybrid may closely resemble a robust Thayer's Gull. The flatter and larger head of the hybrid, and especially the thick bill with a pronounced angle on the bottom, should help distinguish it from the smaller, slimmer Thayer's Gull.
  • The Yellow-footed Gull of the Gulf of California formerly was regarded as a race of the Western Gull. But its legs are a different color, and it also takes only three, not four, years to reach adult plumage.
  • In colonies with many more females than males present, two females may establish a pair bond. Each lays eggs, and then takes care of the double-sized brood. The female-biased sex ratio of some Western Gull colonies may have been the result of pollution by pesticides that acted like estrogen and made some male embryos develop as females.

Habitat


Ocean

  • Breeds on rocky islands.
  • Forages at sea, in intertidal areas, along beaches, and at dumps.
  • Roosts in fields, dumps, and parking lots.

Food


Fish

Marine invertebrates and fishes. Eggs and chicks of seabirds. Scavenges carrion and refuse.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–3 eggs
Egg Description
Light buff or greenish with dark blotching.
Condition at Hatching
Chicks semiprecocial at hatching; may leave nest cup at one day old. Covered in cryptically colored down.
Nest Description

Nest is a scrape in the ground filled with vegetation, feathers, rope, plastic, or other items. Nests in colonies, often with other gull species.

Nest Placement

Cliff

Behavior


Soaring

Captures food near surface of water or on shore. Steals food from cormorants and other gulls. Swallows large prey whole. Common at garbage dumps.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Although still common, its numbers are declining, possibly from the increased frequency of El Niño years that decrease or eliminate nest success. Because of its small population size and limited range, the Western Gull should be monitored.

Credits

  • Pierotti, R. J., and C. A. Annett. 1995. Western Gull (Larus occidentalis). In The Birds of North America, No. 174 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Range Map Help

Western Gull Range Map
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