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Herring Gull - BirdForum Opus

Larus argentatus
Adult European Herring Gull, L. a. argenteus
Photo © by Robert Scanlon
Wells, Norfolk, UK, 13 March 2005

Includes: Vega Gull and American Herring Gull


Adult Vega Gull, L. a. vegae
Photo © by Alex Kuzmich
Anadyr, Siberia, Russia, 21 June 2005

55-66cm (21¾-26 in)
Breeding Adult

  • Grey back and upperwings
  • White head
  • White below
  • Black wing tips with white spots
  • Bare yellow eye ring
  • Yellow bill with red spot
  • Pink legs

Non Breeding Adult

  • Brown streaks on head and neck


  • Brown with dark streaks
  • Dark bill
  • Dark iris

Second-winter bird

  • Whiter head and underparts
  • Grey back

Similar species

Many large gulls including Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull. It commonly hybridises with many of these. Common Gull / Short-billed Gull is smaller with a plain bill, darker mantle and larger white wedge in the outer primaries.


Adult American Herring Gull, L. a. smithsonianus
Photo © by jvhigbee
Renton, Washington, USA, 13 January 2004

European Herring Gull

Breeds widely across Northern Europe from Iceland and the Faroes to northern Scandinavia and Arctic Russia, reaching south to the British Isles and France east to Germany, Poland, Belarus and the Baltic States. Has recently been recorded breeding in a Yellow-legged Gull colony in northern Spain.
Mainly resident or dispersive, except in north Norway, the Baltic, Finland and northern Russia where migratory. Widespread in winter in Western and Central Europe. Has bred on Svalbard and Bear Island.

Vega Gull

Breeds north-eastern Siberia; winters south to China

American Herring Gull

Breeds from Alaska east across northern Canada to Maritime Provinces, south to British Columbia, north-central Canada, and Great Lakes, and along Atlantic Coast to North Carolina. [1]


Herring gull taxonomy is confused and confusing. Thus, Vega Gull and American Herring Gull are treated as full species by some authorities.

Gill and Donsker[4] and Christidis et al.[3] accept three species, with L. a. mongolicus as a subspecies of Vega Gull. Burger et al. [6] recognize two species, with American, Vega and Mongolian Gulls lumped under the name "Arctic Herring Gull."

Immature (first cycle) American Herring Gull, L. a. smithsonianus
Photo © by bobsofpa
Sebastian Inlet State Park, Florida, USA, 7 February 2005

This species also formerly included Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Gull and Armenian Gull which are now considered full species by most authorities.

Herring gull hybridises with other species, e.g. Lesser Black-back, and particularly Glaucous Gull in Iceland.


Clements[1] accepts five subspecies in four groups:

  • American Herring Gull
    • L. a. smithsonianus in northern North America, winters south to Central America
  • Vega Gull or East Siberian Gull
  • Mongolian Gull
    • L. a. mongolicus in southeast Altai and Lake Baikal to Mongolia; winters southern Asia
  • European Herring Gull:
    • L. a. argentatus in Scandinavia and extreme northwest Russia, winters in northern and western Europe
    • L. a. argenteus in northwest Europe, winters to northern Spain
First cycle Mongolian Gull, L. a. mongolicus
Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Choshi Port, Chiba Prefecture, Japan, 10 February 2019


Breeds mainly along rocky coastlines on cliffs, stacks and islands, in some areas on buildings or on flatter areas of shore and in others at inland lakes. Mainly coastal when not breeding but increasingly in urban areas and on farmland. Abundant at refuse-tips and around fishing harbours.


Photo © by mali
Hastings, East Sussex, England, 6 April 2017


They are scavengers; they will also take eggs and young birds.


Photo © by mali
Hastings, East Sussex, England, 5 May 2017

They are colony nesters. 2-4 olive eggs are laid on the ground or cliff ledges and are incubated for 28-30 days.


Herring Gull sound clip


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Brazil, M. (2009). Birds of East Asia. Princeton Univ. Press.
  3. Christidis et al. 2014. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, version 4.1 (Downloadable checklist). Accessed 28 August 2018 from https://www.howardandmoore.org/
  4. Gill, F & D Donsker (Eds). 2018. IOC World Bird List (v8.2). doi : 10.14344/IOC.ML.8.2. Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/
  5. Collinson, J.M., Parkin, D.T., Knox, A.G., Sangster, G. & Svensson, L. (2008) Species boundaries in the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull complex. Brit. Birds 101(7): 340–363.
  6. Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2018). European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/53982 on 27 August 2018).
  7. Howell, S.N.G. and Dunn, J. (2007) A Reference Guide to the Gulls of the Americas. Peterson Field Guides, New York.
  8. Malling Olsen, K. & Larsson, H. (2003) Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Christopher Helm, London.
  9. Nisbet, I. C. T., D. V. Weseloh, C. E. Hebert, M. L. Mallory, A. F. Poole, J. C. Ellis, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2017). Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.hergul.03
  10. Wikipedia contributors. (2018, July 21). Herring gull. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:05, August 28, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Herring_gull&oldid=851245816

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