Living Bird Magazine
Herring GullLarus argentatus
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
Spiraling above a fishing boat or squabbling at a dock or parking lot, Herring Gulls are the quintessential gray-and-white, pink-legged "seagulls." They're the most familiar gulls of the North Atlantic and can be found across much of coastal North America in winter. A variety of plumages worn in their first four years can make identification tricky—so begin by learning to recognize their beefy size and shape.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Herring Gulls soaring along coastal shorelines, feeding on beaches, or squabbling at refuse dumps. Almost any large open space near water can become a winter hangout. Except along the north Atlantic Coast, the Great Lakes, and southern Alaskan coast, expect to see only nonbreeding adults and a motley array of immature gulls. These may be hard to recognize at first until you learn their beefy profiles. Once you know this fairly common species, they can help you identify other gull species.
- Gaviota Argéntea (Spanish)
- Goéland argenté (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Herring Gull has extended its breeding range southward along the Atlantic Coast, and may be displacing the more southern Laughing Gull from some areas. At the northern end of its range, however, the Herring Gull is itself being displaced by increasing numbers of the Great Black-backed Gull.
- Breeding brings special dietary challenges for Herring Gulls. During courtship, males feed their mates, losing fat reserves in the process. Then egg-laying reduces the females’ protein and bone calcium, and they seek out marine invertebrates and fish to replenish stores. After chicks hatch, both parents feed them day and night for up to 12 weeks, splitting foraging shifts to offer each chick up to half a pound of food per day as it nears fledging.
- Sibling rivalry is a problem in the bird world, too. The third chick in a Herring Gull clutch can have it especially tough. While the first two chicks hatch the same day, the third is born a day or two later, weighs less, gets less food, and grows more slowly.
- Incubating Herring Gulls often pant to cool off. They orient their bodies to keep darker plumage out of direct sun as best they can, but short of dipping their feet and legs into water, their mouth lining is their best means of shedding heat.
- An adult Herring Gull was spotted bait-fishing. It floated bits of bread on the surface of a Paris pond and attacked goldfish feeding on the bread. It ate none of the bread itself, indicating deliberate tool use.
- Herring Gulls are one of the most familiar gulls of the East Coast and many people just call them “seagulls.” In fact, some two dozen different species of gulls live in North America, and they present almost endless opportunities for identification.
- Herring Gulls prefer drinking freshwater, but they'll drink seawater when they must. Special glands located over the eyes allow them to excrete the salt that would otherwise dehydrate most animals, including us. The salty excretion can be seen dripping out of their nostrils and off the ends of their bills.
- Young Herring Gulls appear to be more migratory than adults. In some areas, such as the Great Lakes, most adults remain near their breeding grounds, but the nonbreeders move father south in the fall.
- The oldest recorded Herring Gull was at least 29 years, 3 months old when it was seen in the wild in Michigan in 2015 and identified by its band. It had been banded in Wisconsin in 1986.