Living Bird Magazine
Great Black-backed GullLarus marinus
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
The king of the Atlantic waterfront, the Great Black-backed Gull is the largest gull in the world, with a powerful build and a domineering attitude. They harry other birds to steal their food and even hunt adult birds such as grebes and puffins. Adults are handsome with broad black wings, gleaming white head, and big yellow bill. North American populations were once severely threatened by the feather trade, but numbers rebounded in the twentieth century and they are now a common East Coast sight.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Along much of the East Coast of North America, you should be able to find Great Black-backed Gulls at beaches or fishing piers. They’ll be the largest gulls around—look for the huge size, big head and bill, and very broad wings. Adults have a very dark back and wings—very nearly black—making the identification fairly easy. Immatures are less obviously marked, but their large, bulky size and shape is the same as adults.
- Gaviota Mayor (Spanish)
- Goéland marin (French)
- Cool Facts
- This is the largest gull in the world. Its broad wings and powerful appearance give it a regal look that have impressed naturalists for years. In the words of one early observer: “It surely seemed to be a king among the gulls, a merciless tyrant over its fellows, the largest and strongest of its tribe. No weaker gull dared to intrude upon its feudal domain.”
- The Great Black-backed Gull is one of many bird species whose feathers were used for fashionable clothing in the 1800s. After the demise of the feather trade in the early 1900s, Great Black-backed Gull populations increased and spread farther south. Garbage dumps and other sources of human refuse have contributed to their range expansion.
- Young Great Black-backed Gulls stay in the nesting territory until they learn to fly at about 7 weeks old. They return to the nesting area to rest and get fed for another few weeks. Some young may remain with their parents for months after leaving the breeding colony, but most join up with other immature gulls in places where food is easy to find.
- During winter, large numbers of young Great Black-backed Gulls eat fish driven to the surface by humpback whales.
- The oldest Great Black-backed Gull on record was at least 26 years, 9 months old, when it was spotted in new Jersey in 1994 and identified by its band. It had been banded in Massachusetts in 1968.