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Mew Gull - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Larus brachyrhynchus)
Common Gull L. c. canus, adult summer pair
Photo by mikemik
Sweden, June 2006

Includes: Common Gull

Larus canus


Common Gull L. c. canus, showing wing pattern
Photo by Doc Duck
Trondheim, Norway, June 2013

Length 40–46 cm (15¾-18 in), wingspan 100-130 cm, weight 300-550 g [Common Gull L. c. canus; see Subspecies, below, for other subspp.]
A fairly small white-headed gull, with small yellow bill, petite looks, medium-grey mantle, broad white crescents on back, round head, white primary tips show well when standing, and usually dark brown iris. In winter, the head is lightly streaked with dark grey, and the bill often has a narrow dusky to diffuse black band. Juvenile to first summer have white tail with black terminal band; brownish-black primaries; head and body brown to whitish, often heavily streaked; mantle brown in juvenile, grey by first winter.

Similar Species

Ring-billed Gull is slightly larger with slightly lighter back, pale yellow iris, thicker bill with broad solid black ring, narrower white crescents on back, and less white on the primary tips. Juveniles have whiter belly and black primaries.


Breeds in northern Europe, northern Asia, and northwestern North America; migrates south during the winter. See subspecies, below, for detail.


Its closest relative is Ring-billed Gull, and secondarily to the entire Herring Gull complex of large white-headed gulls.


Kamchatka Gull L. c. kamtschatschensis, adult winter
Photo by DaninJapan
Shimoda-Machi, Aomori-Ken, Japan; February 2005
Mew Gull L. c. brachyrhynchus, adult summer
Photo by bobsofpa
Denali National Park, Alaska, USA, July 2013

Subdivided into four subspecies[1], one of which probably better treated as a separate species[2]:

  • L. c. canus Common Gull. Abundant breeding species in northern Europe (Iceland, northwestern Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, northern Germany, Scandinavia, Finland, Poland, the Baltic States, and Russia east to about 40°E longitude; wintering south and west to Ireland, Britain, France and northern Germany; small numbers as far south as Morocco, and west to the Atlantic coast of North America. Abundant, with a population of around 500,000 pairs; after Black-headed Gull the commonest gull wintering in Britain, with 700,000 birds, with a northern bias.
  • L. c. heinei Siberian Common Gull. Breeds in Russia and Kazakhstan from around 40°E to around 140°E longitude; wintering mainly in central Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, and southern Caspian Sea, though a few also west to Britain, and east with L. c. kamtschatschensis to the western Pacific. As L. c. canus, but mantle slightly darker. Population not known, but common in central Europe in winter.
  • L. c. kamtschatschensis Kamchatka Gull. Breeds in north-eastern Siberia; winters western Pacific in Japan, Korea, northeastern China, and far southeastern Russia (Vladivostok area). Length to 45 cm, weight to 600 g. As L. c. heinei, but larger, with a longer, heavier bill and more angular head; legs brighter yellow; iris often light brown in adults; size suggests a transition to Ring-billed Gull rather than Mew Gull[2]. Population not known, but common in Japan in winter.
  • The above three subspecies are weakly defined, with broad zones of intergradation where they meet[2].
  • L. c. brachyrhynchus Mew Gull (has also been called Short-billed Gull). Breeds in Alaska and western Canada; winters along west coast of North America from Alaska south to Baja California, rare elsewhere in North America (but recorded east to Atlantic coast). Length 38-41 cm, wingspan 100-120 cm, weight 325-495 g. Adult plumage similar to L. c. canus but with less black on wingtips, head more heavily streaked and bill with less black smudging in winter; iris mid brown, sometimes yellowish. Structure differs more, with relatively longer wings and more rounded head; bill shorter and weaker, and with less black marking in winter. Juvenile plumage markedly different, with uniform dusky brown head and underside, much broader blackish-brown tail band (no white base), and browner wings. A scarce taxon, with a population of little over 10,000 pairs[2].
Common Gull L. c. canus, juvenile
Photo by Bobby65
Leksand, Sweden; August 2005

The once-split subspecies L. c. brachyrhynchus has now again been lumped with Larus canus[1]. The common name Mew Gull is recommended by all the major taxonomic authorities for the merged species, despite this not being the name of the nominate subspecies, and being far less widespread and abundant than Common Gull. The species continues to be known as Common Gull in Europe and Asia. The only world-wide authority to recognise the split of Mew Gull from Common Gull was the 1996 installment of Sibley and Monroe[3], though they are also treated as separate species in Olsen & Larsson's monograph (2003)[2] and in a major study by Adriaens & Gibbins (2016)[4], a trend likely to increase further in the future.


Natural habitat by lakes and marshes in the breeding season and along coasts in winter; within last century or so has become strongly adapted to human commensalism, feeding on ploughed fields, meadows, and sports grounds, or in streets on human-supplied food, and using roofs in urban areas (particularly industrial estates) to nest and rest. Outside of the breeding season, often flies often long distances (up to 20-30 km) every evening to roost at sea or on large lakes and reservoirs.



Omnivorous. They scavenge as well as hunt small prey.


They make a lined nest on the ground on islets in wetlands or on moorland, on large buildings (flat-roofed factories), or rarely, in a tree.


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  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Olsen, K. M., & Larsson, H. (2003). Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Helm ISBN 978-0-7136-7087-5
  3. Sibley, CG and BL Monroe. 1996. Birds of the World, on diskette, Windows version 2.0. Charles G. Sibley, Santa Rosa, CA, USA.
  4. Adriaens, P., & Gibbins, C. (2016). Identification of the Larus canus complex. Dutch Birding 38 (1): 1–64.

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