Herring Gull

Larus argentatus

55-67cm

Appearance

A big gull with grey wings, a grey back and otherwise white plumage during summer. The yellow bill has a subtle hook on the end and a red spot on its tip, the legs and feet are a fleshy pink, the wings have white-spotted black tips, and there is a yellowish orange ring around the yellow eye. The head and neck develop dark grey streaks during winter. Juveniles and first-winter birds are mottled brown with dark bills and spotted dark tails tipped with dark; the grey colour becomes apparent in second winter, and full adult plumage develops over 4 years.

Habitat

Majority of birds nest close to the ocean, particularly on cliffs, beaches and shingle islands. Inland colonies are becoming more common and may inhabit buildings and moorland. When not in breeding season, birds have a wide distribution and though they still tend towards the coast, they can be found in towns, reservoirs and playing fields.

Character

Birds may feed alone, but rarely stray far from others; nesting is colonial and roosts are big and communal. Quite a versatile bird, scavenging near boats or at tips, feeding from ploughed fields, or breaking shellfish open by dropping them onto rocks. May also hunt small mammals.

Food

Eats varied diet ranging from offal and carrion to seeds and fruits, and also eats the young and eggs of other birds. Catches flying ants, dives into water in search of fish and may kill small mammals; scavenges in shorelines and rubbish areas.

Breeding

Nesting starts in April when female lays 2-4 eggs; both parents incubate for 28-30 days. Hatchlings have a layer of down, and they depart the nest after 2-3 days but remain nearby. Capable of flying after about 35-40 days old and are then independent.

Population

Birds leave nesting colonies after breeding, and juveniles are likely to travel further than adults, who usually don't travel far. However, Scandinavian birds visit Britain in winter, boosting numbers to over 700 000 individuals. Otherwise about 140 000 pairs breed in the UK and 5500 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Observation should be simple as the Herring Gull is part of most landscapes in the region.

Voice

Has a distinctive 'kyow, kyow, kyow' call and a ' ga-ka-ka' call when threatened.
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