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Great Black-backed Gull


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


  • Yeow calls
  • Yeow calls, under a greater threat condition, chicks in background
  • Yeow and kow-kow-kow calls
  • Calls from colony
  • Begging calls from nestlings
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Both male and female Great Black-backed Gulls have deep, hoarse, swallowed-sounding calls. They also give long, trumpeting calls made up of similar deep sounds combined with louder, higher-pitched notes. They make these calls while raising and lowering their heads repeatedly.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.

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A Second Look at “Seagulls”: Tips for ID, BirdScope, Summer 2010.

A Noble Vision of Gulls, Living Bird, Summer 2016.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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