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Herring Gull

Larus argentatus ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: LARIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.

Songs

None.

Calls

Herring Gulls have a rich repertoire of calls, each of which may be modified in different contexts and accompanied by different postures. For example, the long-drawn single note of their mew call is always accompanied by an arched neck, but serves to attract attention in contexts as diverse as courtship, chick feeding, nest approaches, or agitated aggression. Their characteristic ha-ha-ha-ha alarm call may change to a plaintive yeow in flight or a yelping keow as the threat intensifies. That keow is highly individual and can serve as personal identification. When trumpeted more and more shrilly as the gull lowers and then raises its head, this becomes the gull's "long call," the most elaborate, variable, and individualized call in its repertoire. Both sexes make a repeated huoh-huoh-huoh in courtship, territorial disputes, and nest selection to indicate some version of "I'm not moving." It’s been called their “choking call” because the birds deliver the call while leaning forward, head down, and heaving upward as they call. Chicks beg for regurgitated food with a klee-ew call that they first peep while inside the egg. And adults use the same call in a softer "baby-talk" version during courtship or in exchanges when the male returns to take his turn on the nest.

Other Sounds

None.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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