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Herring Gull

These gulls are often seen in European waters, although one subspecies can be seen in North America too.

The range of the Herring Gull is described as circumboreal, meaning that it occupies boreal regions of both North America and Eurasia. There are at least 9 subspecies, though only one occurs as a breeder in North America. The Herring Gull is a member of the group known as “white-headed” gulls often referred to in field guides.

Detailed studies of Herring Gull behavior show that during the breeding season they spend about 10 hours each day sleeping, though not all at one time. Many short naps of a few minutes are taken throughout the day, and longer periods of sleep are taken at night.


Description of the Herring Gull


The breeding adult Herring Gull is a large gull with pink legs, a pale gray mantle, white head and tail, mostly black primaries, and a yellow bill with a red spot.  Length: 25 in.  Wingspan: 58 in.

herring gull


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Winter adults have brown mottling or streaking on the head and neck.


Immatures resemble winter adults but have brown to partly brown upperparts, a pink or black bill, and a dark band on the end of the tail.


Herring Gulls inhabit lakes, coasts, bays, landfills, fishing docks, and plowed fields.


Herring Gulls eat a widely varied diet including insects, mollusks, fish, crustaceans, eggs, and garbage.

Herring Gull


Herring Gulls forage by picking up surface food from the ground or while swimming, dip to the water’s surface while flying, or may steal food from other birds.

Related: What does it mean when a bird poops on you?


Herring Gulls breed from Alaska south to the northeastern U.S. states, and winter broadly across eastern, central, and far western portions of the U.S., as well as points south. The population is probably increasing.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Herring Gull.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

Herring Gulls sometimes carry mollusks or other hard to open prey high up and drop them onto rocks to break them apart.

The range of the Herring Gull has been expanding in recent decades.


The typical call is a bugle or a two-syllable note.


Similar Species

Ring-billed Gulls are smaller, with a smaller bill, and adults have a black ring on the bill. The wide variety of Herring Gull plumages due to age and seasonal variation make this species easy to confuse with many of the large gull species.

Thayer’s Gull
Thayer’s Gull is very similar to Herring Gull and Iceland Gull. identification requires substantial experience with gulls.

California Gull
The California Gull has a darker mantle (back) than the Herring Gull.



The Herring Gull’s nest is a scrape lined with grass and feathers, and placed on the ground, usually behind an object that serves as a windbreak.

Number: Usually lay 3 eggs.
Color: Buffy or olive with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 27-30 days, but cannot fly for 6-7 weeks.


Bent Life History of the Herring Gull

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Herring Gull – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



HABITSContributed by Chartes Wendell Townsend

The most widely distributed sea gull of the Northern Hemisphere and the one that is best known because it frequents the haunts of man, visiting his most populous harbors,, is the herring gull. But slightly inferior in size to the great black-backed and burgomaster gulls, it is distinguished from the former by its pearly gray back and from the latter by the black tips to its wings. Not only is it a bird familiar to those dwelling along the seacoast and to the voyagers on the ocean, but it is found about lakes and rivers. Owing to better protection given to breeding colonies, which were formerly systematically robbed of their eggs, and to the fact that the birds are not molested in the neighborhood of large cities, the herring gull has not only held its own, but is undoubtedly on the increase.

Circumpolar in distribution the herring gull breeds from Ellesmere Land to Manitoba and Maine, and in Europe to northern France and the White Sea. It winters wherever there is open water throughout its range, and as far south as Cuba and the Mediterranean Sea. In northern regions the return of open water in the spring often determines the arrival of these gulls as well as of other water birds. An interesting example of this is shown in the case of Cobalt Lake, Ontario, where a constant stream of hot water flows into the lake from the silver mines. As a consequence the ice leaves sometimes as much as two weeks earlier than it does in any of the surrounding lakes. Arthur A. Cole (1910) reports that in 1910 “the lake opened on March 31, and within 24 hours two herring gulls were seen floating in the lake.”:

On the eastern coast of the United States the herring gull spends not only the winter but also the summer to a considerable distance to the south of its breeding range, the most southern point of which is No-Man’s-Land in Penobscot Bay, Maine.’ In southern Maine and on the New Hampshire and Massachusetts coasts it is difficult to state the dates of migration, for the birds is always to be found there.

Courtship: In the spring one may often see on a sand bar some of the herring gulls walking proudly about raising and lowering their heads and emitting from time to time loud sonorous notes, a bugle call which I believe to be their love song, while others stand quietly by. As this song is given the head, with wide-open bill, is raised until it points vertically upwards and then lowered to the horizontal:

‘A few herring gulls have recently bred near Martha’s vineyard position. As the sex can not be distinguished one may only guess that it is the males that are thus parading themselves. At this time of year, more than at other times, they are frequently to be seen chasing each other in the air, and that too without the object of stealing coveted food morsels. Mr. Ralph Hoffman reports seeing a pair of these birds bowing to each other at Ipswich beach just prior to the act of mating. On the ground they sometimes seize each other by the bills and strike with the wings and feet. H. L. Ward (1906) describes an action on the part of the gulls which suggested to him the dance of the albatross at Laysan. He says:

Two adults may be standing near together, when one will stop, hold Its neck nearly horizontal, its bill pointed down, wave Its head In and out from its body, and slightly up and down, In a rapid, jerky way, reminding one somewhat of the motions of a duck feeding In shallow water, at the same time emitting a peculiar chicken like chatter. The other one Immediately joins In, apparently directing its attention to the same place in the ground, and the performance is kept up for a minute or two, when the birds straighten up, perhaps to repeat the operation two or three times with short intermissions.

Nesting: The herring gull breeds in small or large colonies, but always in the neighborhood of some body of water – a river, lake, or the sea. Single nests are rare, and usually point to the breaking up and scattering of a colony, for the herring gull is a very social creature and prefers to nest, feed, rest, and sleep in companies. Mr. Brewster in 1881 found many of the herring gulls on the southern coast of Labrador nesting in widely scattered regions, and says (1883) “the policy of scattering over wide areas, however, probably preserves the majority of nests from discovery.”:

At the Duck Islands off the coast of Maine is a large breeding colony which has been protected for some years. Previously the colony was despoiled of eggs every year by fishermen, and many of the birds had acquired the habit of nesting in trees, where they were less likely to be robbed. Herring gulls have resorted to trees as nesting sites when disturbed by man in places other than these Duck Islands. Audubon (1840) in 1833 found the gulls nesting in fir trees on Grand Manan Island. He was informed that the habit had been acquired within the recollection of those living there, and that previously they had nested on the ground. Dr. Henry Bryant visited the same locality in 1856 and found that fewer were building in trees than in Audubon’s time – a fact he attributes to greater freedom from persecution. Barrows (1912) says that he has never known herring gulls to nest in trees in the Great Lakes region, When I visited the Duck Island in 1904 the birds under protection had returned with few exceptions to the normal habit of nesting on the ground.

Maj. G. Ralph Mayer, United States Army, contributes the following description of the nesting colony at Great Duck Island, Maine, which he visited on June 20, 1913:

Great Duck Island is about 2 miles long and from three-fourths to 1 mile wide at its greatest width. The gulls’ nesting ground extends clear across the island in the open rocky ground and even back into the edge of the woods among the second or third growth. The nests are placed almost anywhere, though usually against a tree trunk or stump. Some are placed among the rocks along the shore. There are three nesting trees on the island. The Ereater part of the nesting ground has a peculiar soil of rotten vegetable matter and is thickly scattered over with dead trees, standing and fallen. There are probably 4,000 pairs of birds nesting on Great Duck. Little Duck Island, which is about 1 mile north of Great Duck, is the home of about 6,000 pairs of the birds.

The nests, as a general rule, are very rough looking structures, though there are some exceptions. The shape and size varies considerably with the location. The materials used were varied. In one part of the island where chickweed was plentiful this was used to the exclusion of all other materials excepting a few sticks for the base of the nest. On the higher ground the predominating materials were chips and pieces of the dead and rotten trees in the vicinity. Some nests were lined with grasses or feathers; others had no lining whatever, but were more like mere beds of chips and decayed vegetable matter. In the walls of one nest I found a bristle brush of the kind used in washing bottles. The tree nests were composed of branches and were lined with grasses. Several nests found in the woods on Little Duck were composed of sticks and were lined with mosses, principally Usnea longtssima, which was very plentiful In the vicinity. These were the best constructed nests I found. In all cases they were larger than those in the open. Mr. Gray, the head light keeper, told me that this was the first year he had seen them nesting in the heavy timber.

The birds are quite bold in the defense of their breeding grounds. I have repeatedly seen them drive sheep and lambs from the vicinity of the nest, and only once did I see the sheep offer any resistance whatever, and in that case she very quickly decided that it was better to leave the vicinity. On two occasions I was charged by the birds. They did not touch me, but would swoop down straight at me until from 15 to 25 feet from me and directly overhead, when they would go up almost vertically and circling back, repeat the performance. When passing overhead they would utter their piercing “kee-ew.” It was really exciting et times to see the bird heading directly at me and coming so fast. Mr. Gray told me that they made little attempt, however, to defend their nests against the crows, and that in some years a great deal of damage was done in this way. I watched the birds for some time from a tent. My notes show that six minutes after I entered the tent the birds had quieted down. I noticed one bird picking up nesting material several times, but it appeared to be a nervous action rather than a desire to collect nest material. Several times the birds had fights, in which each got hold of the other’s bill and pulled.

The following, taken from my notebook, was written about 5 p. m. on a clear, bright day:

This is one of the most wonderful sights I have ever witnessed. The air Is literally full of gulls. In sight there must be at least 4,000 gulls and all screaming. It is a weird sound. The air is so full of them that it looks like a snowstorm. They are perched on the trees and standing on the ground, where they resemble nothing so much as a national cemetery with its thousands of white stones. When I first arrived at Great Duck the birds did not appear to mind my walking around among the nests so much as they did later on. When I entered the nesting ground the birds within 50 to 100 feet of me would rise and fly around, calling. Later on during my stay the birds within 200 to 250 feet would rise. This may have been due to the fact that young were hatching out every day.

On the ground the nests are placed in hollows or in plain sight on sand or gravel or rocks, or in grassy fields. Sometimes they are placed at the foot of stumps or close to an overhanging rock or pile of driftwood; sometimes on the ground in thick spruce woods. They also nest on ledges on the face of cliffs, as at the Gaspe Peninsula. A. H. Jordan (1888) found a few nests on an island in Lake Champlain, where the birds were much persecuted, “quite well concealed in the edge of the woods under low-hanging trees.” An unusual nesting site of the herring gull is mentioned by F. S. Daggett (1890), who found on Isle Royale in Lake Superior four nests of this bird built on the ice accumulated on the rocks by the dashing of the waves in winter. A few warm days had already so melted the ice that the nests with their contents were in danger of falling into the lake. He also speaks of nests made in hollows in the accumulated droppings of the bird.

Dutcher and Bailey (1903) say:

During incubation the weight of the sitting bird breaks down or packs the fleet, so they are continually being repaired and built up around the edge. with new material, which is always green grass or weeds, the effect being very pretty indeed. On several occasions gulls were seen gathering this material in their bills. The grass Is bitten off or pulled up by the roots until the bird has a ball in its bill larger than a man’s fist. This material is gathered where it is most plentiful and is usually carried by flight to the nest site.

Baird, Brewer, and Ridgway (1884) describe a nest built in the top of a spruce, 00 feet from the ground, at Grand Manan, which was firmly built and “composed entirely of long, fine, flexible grasses, evidently gathered, when green, from the salt marshes, and carefully woven into a circular fabric. The nest measured about 18 inches in diameter, its sides being 3 or 4 inches thick, and its cavity at the center at least 4 inches deep.” Ward (1906) observed incipient nest building at Gravel Island in Lake Michigan, and says that “there seemed to be no attempt to arrange the material with the bill,” but that the bird molded the nest with her breast.

Dutcher and Bailey found at Duck Island, Maine, the average depth of the bowl to be 3 inches and its diameter 10 inches. The diameter of the nests at the base varied from 13 to 24 inches; they are sometimes built up to a height of 10 inches. Maj. G. Ralph Meyer found that the size of the nests at the Duck Islands varied greatly. He writes:

The average of seven nests was: Outer diameter, 15 inches; inner diameter, 8 inches; depth outside, 4 1/2 inches; depth inside, 3 1/4 inches. One nest In the heavy timber measured 22 by 8 by 6 by 5. One of the tree nests was 28 Inches In diameter.

Eggs: Only one brood is raised, but when the nests are frequently robbed the birds are kept laying all summer. Three eggs constitute a set, although the number is sometimes only two, and in very rare cases one or four. The color of the eggs varies within wide limits. Dutcher and Bailey, from an examination of many hundreds at Duck Island, Maine, found that:

The ground colors were light sky blue, dead blue, light blue-gray, light grayblue, dark lilac-gray, light gray, light pea-green, green drab, warm drab, ocher drab, pink drab, light brown, and cinnamon. The colors of the markings were chocolate brown, rich brown, light brown, snuff brown, asphalt, black, lilac, mauve. The shape of markings was almost Infinite – large and small spots, indistinct specks, blotches, lines, and irregular streaks, somewhat like the markings on the eggs of blackbirds. One egg was found with a light sky-blue ground color with tiny Indistinct specks of lilac and light brown. Some of the markings were so confluent that they resulted In a distinct line around the egg.

Major G. Ralph Meyer writes:

The eggs varied greatly In shape, size, and color. Eggs were found varying from short ovate to cylindrical ovate. The most common shape was the elongate ovate.

The measurements of 45 eggs, in the United States National Museum and by Major Meyer, average 72.3 by 50.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 82 by 52, 74.5 by 53 and 58 by 45 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation varies from 24 to 28 days, the average being 26 days. Dutcher and Bailey found an interval of about 12 hours between the hatching of each egg. Dutcher and Bailey (1903) show conclusively that in some cases at least both sexes incubate. They say:

It was also observed that as the period of Incubation neared Its end the anxiety of the parents increased in a marked degree, so that it was easy to determine the stage of incubation by the action of the parents. During the last few hours, before the pipping and cracking of the egg, the parent birds were so fearless that they would leave the nest only on a near approach.

Several observers have found that the eggs were turned slightly by the bird’s bill, feet, and breast. The mate of the sitting bird is often stationed near at hand.

The young are soon on their feet after leaving the egg, and, according to Dutcher and Bailey, ” the instinct to hide seems to be developed within an hour or two after hatching.” They conceal themselves or sometimes only push their heads under pieces of wood or projecting rocks or in the grass. The object of this habit may be also a desire for coolness and shade. Audubon (1840), speaking of the herring gulls breeding in trees at Grand Manan, says:

The most remarkable effect produced by these changes of locality is that the young which are hatched in the trees or high rocks do not leave the nests until they are able to fly.

This is conspicuously the case at Perc Rock in the Gasp Peninsula and on the lofty cliffs of Bonaventure Island and Bon Ami.

One of the parents guards the young during the first week or two of life, repelling intruders, and the young are brooded and shielded from the sun.

R. M. Strong (1914) describes the feeding of young only a few hours old as follows:

The adult bird did not insert its bill in the mouth of its offspring, but the latter took food from the ground just below the bill of the parent. * A quantity of food in a fine and soft condition was disgorged in more or less of a heap.

Meyer writes that “in feeding the very young bird the parent holds the food in the bill and the young bird picks it out. The older birds take their food from the ground, where it is placed by the parents.” Ward (1906) thus describes the feeding of young nearly able to fly:

The young comes in front of an adult and with a bowing and courtesying movement puts up its bill to that of the old one, continuing the bowing for several minutes, resting between times. Sometimes it took hold of the adult’s, bill with its own; at other times merely touched bills. When the adult opened its mouth the young put its bill within. Failing to get indications of food it went to another adult, and repeated the operation, passing in succession to several, until at length it seemed to get some favorable signs, for it remained by this one, alternately begging and resting. After some time, it was apparent to me that the adult was striving to regurgitate. It would open its mouth, stretch its neck nearly horizontally, then bring its bead down to the ground. * * * Perhaps half an hour after these efforts began I saw a portion of a fish appear in its mouth, and a moment later it was deposited on the ground, where the young promptly seized it. The fish appeared to be a herring about 7 or 8 inches long and so mascerated that it readily fell apart.

I have observed adults at Perc Rock very promptly regurgitate for their young OR alighting near them.

This feeding is done by both parents; and even after the young are able to gain a fair livelihood by their own exertions, and have gathered in companies by themselves, they are ever on the alert to beg food not only from their own parents, but from any adult that may come in their way. It is thought by some that the adults in their turn feed any that come along, but it is probable that the adults recognize their own offspring and as a rule refuse to feed any other, except when they are so set upon by the mob of clamorous young that they must perforce submit. The young are fed for at least five weeks, or until they are able to fly, and even for some time after this whenever the adult can be induced to part with some of its food. Young gulls swim readily, and when frightened will sometimes take to the water and swim rapidly away.

An astonishing habit of herring gulls that has been observed and described by various writers is that of infanticide, and the murder is committed not only on the very young, but also on those nearly grown. Ward (1906a) says:

The main point of attack was the hack of the head. To this region a number of severe blows were given with the point of the bill, after which It was grasped between the mandibles of the adult and the bird was pulled about until the skin and flesh were cut through to the skull.

He was unable to find that these victims were abnormal or had given offense. The habit may perhaps be due to the ferocity of the guarding and fighting instincts in the old birds, and a lack of attainment in the instincts of the young, in consequence of which a chick will occasionally stray from its own preserve and trespass on the domain of a neighbor. Meyer quotes Mr. Gray, the lighthouse keeper of Great Duck Island, as saying “that some of the old birds would kill young gulls and even young chickens. They would take the young bird by the neck and choke it. He put a stop to that by killing the bird found in the act.”:

Examination of stomach contents of young herring gulls reported by Dutcher and Bailey (1903) showed that, besides fish and squid, various insects (moths, flies, and beetles) had been eaten. As a rule the young are given the same food that is consumed by the adults and this will be described later. In two stomachs of birds 1 and 2 days old examined by me I found wasps and large June beetles.

Plumages: The downy young are of a bully yellow color, nearly white below and dusky on the back. They are thickly marked with black spots above. The bill is horn color, with a pink tip after the white pipping knob has disappeared; the feet, dusky pink. The growth of the young gull is rapid, and at the age of 5 or 6 weeks it has donned the juvenal dress, of which the prevailing color is dark gray tinged with brown. The upper parts are mottled and barred with grayish buff and white; the head and neck are streaked with white; the breast and belly nearly uniform ashy-fuscous. The primaries and tail are brownish black. The eyes are brown; the bill dark, pale at the base; the tarsi and feet grayish flesh color. There is a partial molt in the fall of the first year into the first winter plumage and a partial one in the spring into the first nuptial plumage; but no essential change in the general color of the feathers. In the spring and summer the large flocks of herring gulls that are to be found south of the breeding range are largely made up of these dark plumaged year-old birds. In the fall of the year following the one in which the birds are hatched – that is, in the second winter – the “gray gull” molts into its second winter plumage, a dress which approaches that of the adult in its pearl-gray back and white belly, but the former is mottled with brownish and the latter clouded with dusky. The head, neck, and rump are heavily streaked with gray, the primaries are black, and the tail appears to be tipped with black, owing to the dusky brown mottling of the white feathers. A partial molt in the spring into the second nuptial plumage still further improves the dress. A few individuals of this age (2 years) with black tips to the tails and streaked breasts are to be found in the breeding colonies, but none of those in the gray of the first nuptial plumage. Not until the third year or later is the full dress assumed with perfect blue gray mantle, snowy heads, breasts, rumps, and tails, and with primaries tipped with white. Astley (1901) states that the bright yellow bill is not attained until the fourth year. There is then a carmine spot on the lower mandible; the irises are yellow.

There is also a seasonal molt, by which a slight streaking of the neck is assumed in winter, but it is probable that this diminishes and may vanish with age. According to Dwight (1901) the limited prenuptial molts occur on the Atlantic coast in March and April, and the complete postnuptial molts in August and September.

Food: The food habits of the herring gull are of considerable importance, for the bird is a scavenger and renders great service in keeping the harbors and beaches free from decaying fish and refuse of all sorts. All is game that comes in their way, but their greatest prizes are thrown from fishing vessels when the men are cleaning fish. At these times they crowd around the sterns of the vessels and dash eagerly for the choice pieces, the air being filled with their screams. The method of picking up food from the water is characteristic and graceful. Down they swoop on outstretched wings and spread tails with feet dropped to the water, where they often seize the morsel without wetting a feather save perhaps only the tips of their tails, which are curved downward. Often the birds must needs check their course by back paddling with their wings or even by flying up almost backwards. If the morsel is large they sit on the water for a moment or two to swallow it, and thus drop behind the fishing vessel which, however, is easily overtaken. There is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, however, for the birds are often made to share the booty with other gulls who have had their eyes on the same dainties, or even to lose it altogether when pursued by a more powerful rival. The great black-backed gull plays this role with great effect.

The scows which carry off the city garbage to be dumped in deep water arc also eagerly followed by the gulls and much booty is gleaned when the vessel is discharged. In the harbors of populous cities there is always food to be found floating on the water, particularly in the neighborhood of fish wharves and at the mouths of sewers. The service to sanitation in these places is of great value. At Boston large quantities of sewage are poured out into the harbor at Moon Island just after the tide begins to ebb. Gulls collect from all sides in anticipation of this event and rest on the water offshore or fly to and fro until the sewer gates are opened. Then, heedless of the onlookers, they fly in crowded ranks close to the unsavory fountain head and dip gracefully for the tidbits to be found there. It is an interesting fact and an indication of considerable intelligence that gulls, although very wary in regions where shooting is carried on, become entirely tame and confiding where this is forbidden, as is the case in harbors and bird reservations. At times, however, but not often, the herring gull resorts to the tactics of the tern, and captures small live fish by plunging headlong into the water. Occasionally this plunge is made from a height of 15 or 20 feet, and the bird disappears below the surface, soon to emerge with its prey. Sometimes a whole flock can be seen engaged in this occupation as they follow a school of fish. At other times, the plunge with partly open wings is made from only a few feet above the surface, and the bird is only partially immersed. I have seen the members of a flock of herring gulls riding in shallow water fly up a few feet into the air in order to obtain impetus for a short dive below the surface for some prey. Knight (1908) describes the plunging of these gulls from the air and says:

They flew about the open water in circles * * * and as their keen eyes detected some fish at this upper portion of their range they plunged with force into the water, quick]y rising to the surface as a usual thing, though on at least one occasion a bird was out of sight so long that I had grave fears that it would be carried under the ice by the swift current, but It finally emerged at the edge of the ice and took wing with an unusually large tomcod. Nearly every plunge seemed to be successful, the birds swallowing the smaller fish before taking wing, hut when a large fish was captured they would fly to tile ice near by and after batting the fish from side to side on the ice would finally swallow it.

When herring are caught in pounds and traps there are some dead or dying fish that are catured by the gulls, which have, therefore, been accused of damaging the fishery. It is probable that their work here is more properly that of scavengers in keeping the traps free from dead fish, and, therefore, beneficial. The sand beaches are at times covered with stranded fish, small and large; sand launces, herring, cod, hake, haddock, pollock, dogfish, and skates are often thrown up or cast themselves ashore, pursued and pursuers alike. Their dead bodies would soon become intolerable were it not for the greediness of the gulls who come from all sides to the feast. The small fry are eaten whole, while the larger bony fishes are gradually hacked to pieces until nothing but the skeleton is left. The -tough spiny skin of the dogfishes and skates protect them until decay has allowed an entrance, and these are then partly consumed. Squid are also thrown up on the beaches and are relished by the gulls.

The herring gull has a curious habit of dragging dry fish from the upper beach to the water. I found on Ipswich Beach a fish, 18 inches long, that- had been dragged by a gull 134 yards in an irregular course from the upper beach to the edge of the water. During the whole transit the gull walked backward, as was plainly shawn by the tracks. In this connection the following by Strong (1914) concerning his captive gulls is of interest: He found that these gulls often rinsed a piece of food that “has been lying in a chemical solution, or when it has accumulated considerable dirt as a consequence of having been dragged on the ground. Such rinsing of the food does not occur at every feeding, but is usual.” In the case of the gulls at Ipswich it would seem as if they wished to soften the food by maceration in the water.

From the beach and among the rocks of the seashore the herring gull obtains a variety of food other than dead refuse – crabs and other crustaceans, mollusks of all sorts, such as clams, mussels, sea snails, etc., and echinoderms and worms. Many crabs and mollusks are broken with the bill, but if this can not be accomplished the gull seizes the difficult morsel and flies up with it into the air, nearly vertically or in circles, drops it onto the hard sand or rocks, follows closely the descent, and alights to regale itself on the exposed contents. If unsuccessful the first time the gull tries a second and sometimes a third or fourth time. This habit, which is also a common one with crows, explains the fact that mollusk shells, crabs, and sea urchins are scattered so universally along our coast, sometimes half a mile from the sea. On the rocky coast of Maine, where the sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus drabachiensis) is abundant, the gulls sometimes turn them over and pick out the flesh from the circular hole about the mouth without breaking the shell. Isely (1912) speaks of seeing a herring gull in Kansas “following a corn lister, picking up grubs like the blackbirds.” In England, where the birds are more familiar with man, herring gulls not infrequently follow the plow to pick up worms and grubs.

From time to time complaint is made of the damage done by herring gulls in eating fish or fish refuse spread on land as a fertilizer, and one can hardly blame the gull for his failure to discriminate between harmful and useful refuse. It is probable that these reports are exaggerated, and it has been found that the birds are easily kept away by scarecrows.

Seton (1908) says of the herring gull in the region of the Great Slave Lake that it “will pursue wounded game and often follows the hunter to share in the kill.” Mackay (1892) says that herring gulls will eat dead ducks with avidity, cleaning off the flesh and rejecting the skin and feathers as if it had been done with a sharp knife, lie has known them to carry a dead red-breasted merganser “for nearly a quarter of a mile by stages of about 25 yards, holding it by the neck, in order to eat it in security.” He also states that they watch mergansers and rush at them when they appear with a fish in the mouth, and he believes that they often secure the fish. As has been stated above, insects of all kinds have been found in the stomachs of young birds. Coues (187T) speaks of finding the remains of a hare in a gull’s stomach, and Eifrig (1905) seeds and berries.

The herring gull under some circumstances robs nests of the eggs and young, but not to such an extent as some other gulls. Mr. Manly Hardy reports finding a herring gull nesting within 8 or 10 feet of three red-breasted mergansers’ nests and close by the nests of spotted sandpipers and common terns, none of which was in the least disturbed.

Herring gulls eject from their mouths the harder particles of food, such as fishbones and crab’s claws, in the form of loosely compacted pellets; some 2 inches in length. These may be seen about their resting places. I have sometimes found a few feathers in these pellets, probably plucked from the bird’s own breasts. The fresh-water ponds and reservoirs along the coast are frequently visited by this splendid gull, and it is the common idea that they resort to these to drink fresh water; but it is to be remembered that in some places and times they stay continuously near salt water, and that Mr. Brewster’s captive kittiwake refused fresh water, but drank salt water. In the interior on the fresh-water lakes and ponds where the herring gull breeds, and in similar regions where it spends the winter, it is evident that the bird must drink fresh water, Anthony (1906) says:

That gulls drink sea water, and can thrive on it, Is a fact not to be questioned; but I am of the opinion that when fresh water can be obtained without too much trouble they will drink it in preference.

Strong (1914) found that his captive gulls showed an aversion of salted food, and washed their bills and drank fresh water afterwards.

Behavior: The flight of the herring gull varies greatly under different circumstances. At times, especially in calm weather, the birds flap along slowly with broad, slow wing beats like those of herons or cormorants. In this manlier they may fly close to the water or high in the air, and they are usually massed in loose flocks. Occasionally, however, their flight is in a long line, one behind the other, or in broad lines abreast, and rarely they may be seen in the typical V formation of ducks. In rising, a flock often ascends nearly vertically in a great circle all together, or in many intersecting circles. The play of light and shade, of sun and shadow, alternately make the birds appear dark and light. Many hours are spent by the gulls in this graceful and beautiful sport of soaring in circles – a sport which apparently requires but little effort, as, under favorable conditions, few wing beats are necessary. The descent may be made in the same manner as the ascent by circling, but at times the birds drop swiftly down by tipping or rocking from side to side.

In windy weather the flight of the herring gull is far from slow and heron-like. Then it is extremely graceful, as the bird alternately sails with great rapidity before the wind or beats up into it.

At times these gulls are able to sail directly into the teeth of the wind without a single stroke of the wing. Mr. William Brewster (1912) has described the manner in which herring gulls keep pace with a vessel, gliding along on almost motionless wings into the teeth of the gale, sometimes within a few yards of the deck, but always on the windward side. He says:

As the gale increased they flapped their wings less and less often, until most, if not all of them, were gliding ceaselessly, minute after minute, over distances certainly exceeding a mile, without a single wing beat, but not without changes or readjustments In the bend or the inclination of the wings, which took place not Infrequently and often were very obvious.

Several explanations of this mysterious means of propulsion have been offered, but the following by F. W. Headley (1912) seems to me the most satisfactory. He says:

There is a feat perhaps more striking than any of the others already described – a feat which, nevertheless, gulls often achieve. A steamer is advancing against a fairly strong wind, which, if not absolutely a head wind, strikes the vessel at an acute angle. There results a steady up current over the stern of the vessel, or slightly to one side or the other of the stern. Poised on this up current the gulls hang in mid-air, their wings held rigidly expanded. Only very slight wing movements, evidently for purposes of balance, can be detected. Standing on the deck and watching these gulls one Is Irresistibly reminded of the poising of the kestrel high in air, with wings held motionless, when he finds a wind that is all that he could wish. It Is sometimes easy to forget that, unlike the kestrel, they do not remain in one spot, but that all the while they are moving forward and, in fact, keeping pace with the steamer. The gulls, like the kestrel, are poising on an up current of air; but they give their bodies a rather different Incline, with the result that they keep traveling forward. * * * The general incline of their body and wing surfaces is slightly downward. Hence the upward streaming wind not only maintains them in the air or lifts them higher, acting at right angle, ako drives them forward.

A similar explanation is given in detail by A. Forbes (1913).

It is probable that gulls take advantage of ascending currents of air when they soar in circles without perceptible wing beat. In descending from a height they often glide, or vol-plane in the modern language of the aviator, with amazing speed at a steep angle. At other times, as remarked above, they descend almost vertically by tipping first to one side and then to the other, with a suddenness that suggests falling. The last 20 or 30 feet is often accomplished slowly with upstretched wings and downstretched legs. There are very few birds whose flight is more beautiful or which will so well repay study as that of the herring gull.

In flight the feet are stretched behind under the tail, where they can be seen; but it is not very rare to discover a gull flying with one or both feet imbedded in the feathers of the breast, entirely covered or showing only a bit of the darker surface of the feet. I can hardly believe that this is for the sake of warmth, for it may occur on comparatively warm days; while even in the coldest weather the great majority of gulls fly with their feet exposed behind. In quick turns the feet are sometimes dropped, as if to aid in holding the air like a centerboard. They are also dropped as they approach the water, and at times dangle for several seconds as the birds rise into the air. Rising from the water or beach is easily accomplished against a strong wind, but in calm weather the bird is obliged to run along the sand or water for a variable distance before it can rise above the surface.

Although gulls are able to swim rapidly when winged and unable to fly, they rarely swim any distance under natural conditions. Their buoyant position on the water, with elevated tails, is well expressed by Oliver Wendell Holmes when he says:

The gull, high floating like a sloop unladen.

The young just out of the egg are rapid swimmers and instinctively take to the water.

It is said by some writers that the herring gull never dives. This statement is, however, incorrect, as has already been shown in describing the feeding habits. In fact, under exceptional circumstances the herring gull dives as well as a tern.

The vocal powers of the herring gull have a wide range. This is particularly the case during the breeding season, when they indulge in all sorts of sounds, uttered it may be in conversational manner, in moods of love and passion, or anger and fear. Writers have described these sounds by syllables or by comparisions with other sounds in nature. Thus Ward (1906) says:

Sometimes one hears sounds like the lowing of cattle, except that the pitch Is higher, like the bleeting of sheep, the mewing or snarling of cats, the clucking of hens, the crowing of cocks, hoarse human chuckles, and sounds for which I could find no comparisons.

Olive Thorne Miller says that the young herring gull has “a querulous cry like a puppy in distress.”:

I have often been struck with the resemblance of some of their notes to the rattling of blocks in the rigging of a vessel.

The usual alarm cry may be represented by the syllables, kak-kakkak, or by a series of ha ha ka. Herrick writes it as “waw-wakwak! wak-wak! wak-wak!” Strong decided on the syllables “kekkek-kek,” with the accent on the first syllable. Ward also distinguishes a “challenge cry where the bird stretches its neck up at an angle of 450 and holds its whole body rigidly while the cry is emitted with great vehemence. This I have previously described under courtship. Bent’s notes refer to this cry as the “trumpeting call” and state that this is:

the most striking and spectacular vocal performance of all the varied notes heard on the breeding grounds. It is usually given from a tree, stump, or other perch, but often from the ground. The neck Is outstretched to Its full extent, pointing upwards at an angle, and the mouth Is opened wide. The call begins with a loud, shrill, prolonged scream, which Is followed by a long series of shorter notes, rapidly uttered, sometimes as many as 10 or 12 In the latter. It sounds like queeeee-ah, quak, quak, qualc, quak, quak, quak, qualr, quak, quak, quak. As one bird starts on this call It seems to challenge others to join In the chorus, until perhaps a dozen birds are all giving It at once like a loud ringing chorus of college cheers.

Strong represents the call as keee, kee ek, kee ek, kee ek, kee ek, etc. I have noted it as ho-ak, ho-ak, etc., as well as ku-ku, or kee he, kee, the last named high pitched and rapidly repeated. At times the notes are clear and bugle like; again squeaking or rattling; again the birds emit hissing whistles, which are very different from the other notes and very characteristic. There is evidently great individual variation in the notes as well as variations due to many moods and circumstances.

The herring gull associates with a number of other sea birds in the same haunts. With the great black-backed gull it has not infrequent encounters on the score of food, but it is fair to say that the larger bird is more often the aggressor. Arthur Saunders writes:

I have seen the common crow rob the gull of mussels which they have dropped on the rocks to break. The crows sit on the rocks until a gull drops a mussel near It, then walk up and seize the mussel before the gull has time to get it again. The gulls do not seem to resent this at all. They generally act as though they did not know where the mussel had gone to and fly off to hunt for another.

I have several times seen a herring gull fly at a whistler who was swimming near-by. The whistler always dove at the approach of the gull, who would settle on the water where the duck went down. In a few seconds he would start off for another duck, and the process would be repeated again and again. The gull never picked up any food from the water and never molested any ducks swimming near; and none of them showed any fear, except the one directly flown at, who would always dive before the gull reached it. It seemed to be a matter of play on the part of the gull that was understood as such by the duck, although it is possible that the gull hoped to obtain food. On one occasion I saw a herring gull fly directly at a female American merganser which with another was being courted by a male. The merganser flew vigorously away just as the gull alighted. Then began an active chase by short flights on the part of the gull, who was eluded by rapid turns and occasional dives on the part of the merganser. Finally the merganser caine up close to the two other mergansers, who had remained passive during the pursuit, but as the gull pounced at the group they all took flight, closely followed by the tyrant. The mergansers easily distanced the gull, who in his eagerness spit out a small fish, but soon after gave up the pursuit and alighted on the ice.

Well endowed by nature to resist the destructive agencies of storm and cold, with practically no enemies among birds and mammals, the herring gull would indeed be a prosperous species were it not for the arch enemy, man. Fortunately, at the present date, the idea of bird preservation from an esthetic as well as from a utilitarian point of view is gaining ground, and since the beginning of the present century the herring gull has been more and more protected from gunners and eggers. With many the benefit derived from this gull in sanitation (the removal from harbors of floating organic matter) is a strong argument in favor of protection. In the past, and to a large extent in such out-of-the way regions as Labrador at the present day, these gulls were and are incessantly persecuted during the breeding season. Their eggs are highly valued as a food supply, and the young are cooped up and fattened for eating. Adult birds are shot for food or for mere sport. It is fortunate that such practices are now frowned upon in all well-regulated communities.

A destructive agency of the young at breeding colonies is the surf on the shore. In stormy weather when the waves are high many young gulls, still unable to fly, are killed by being dashed on the rocks.

Like many other birds, it is probable that herring gulls enjoy considerable longevity, barring accidents. American ornithologists are familiar with the case of “Gull Dick,” often reported by Mackay in “The Auk.” For 24 years this bird – easily recognized by markings, voice, and disposition – visited the neighborhood of the Brenton’s Reef Lightship in Narragansett Bay. Here it stayed from about October 12 to April 7. The bird was fed regularly with boiled pork and fish. It would fly close to the vessel and would respond to calls or waving of the hand at mealtimes, and it jealously drove off all other gulls. Morris (1903) records another individual that was observed for at least 30 years.

Fall: The fall migration from the breeding grounds at the Duck Islands, Maine, has been observed by the lightkeepers to begin about August 8, and by the 20th three-quarters of the birds have left. At Ipswich I have noted a decided diminution in the summer birds and a migration past the beach of adults by the 20th of August. As the herring gull is found in summer as well as in winter to the south of the breeding range, it is difficult to set exact limits in time for the migrations.

The usual explanation given for the occurrence of the herring gull in summer south of its breeding grounds is that these birds are immature or, if adults, barren individuals. On the coast of Essex County, Massachusetts, especially at Ipswich, is a place where nonbreeding summer birds can be studied to good advantage. Here, on the sandy beaches, they collect in numbers, which have noticeably increased of late years, since adequate protection has been extended to the breeding colonies farther north. As a large proportion of the summer birds at Ipswich are in immature plumage, it is probable that immaturity is the cause for nonbreeding to a considerable extent. A certain proportion, however, sometimes as many as 5 or even 10 per cent of the flocks, are in adult plumage. This fact and the fact that the number of gulls varies greatly from day to day, and that their numbers are greatest at the times when the beaches are covered with stranded fish, suggests that a certain proportion, perhaps only a small one, may be daily excursionists from their breeding places, the nearest of which, No Mans Land, is 111 miles northeast of Ipswich Light. Confirming this supposition are some observations made by me in June, 1904, on the Maine coast, where I found flocks of gulls flying southwest in the morning and northeast at night. The following from Dutcher and Bailey (1903) in the study of the gulls at No Mans Land and Great Duck Island, also bears this out:

At daylight large numbers of gulls leave the island and go to sea for food; and the length of time they remain away is governed probably by the distance they have to go to find fish. Some days they return quite early and on others much later. The manner of flight when returning from one of these food trips Is entirely different from that of the ordinary excursions made from the breeding grounds; It Is made close to the surface of the water, very direct, one bird following anotber, and Is quite rapid. Sometimes the birds show marked evidences of fatigue.

The numbers of these summer birds at Ipswich I have estimated at various times with considerable care and by various methods. Sometimes, I have measured the sand bar which they covered, or the strip of beach or the length of the line in the water abreast of the beach, and, by allowing a certain number to the square or linear yard, have arrived at a fairly accurate estimate, which I believe in most cases has been below rather than above the mark. The following are some of the dates and the numbers: June 21, 1903, 2,000; July 27, 1903, 2,500; November 20, 1904, 8,000; July 16, 1905, 28,800; July 20, 1907, 5,000; July 12, 1908, 5,000. The large number given for July 16, 1905, was obtained from the measurement of the area occupied by a flock. This was an area of 28,800 square yards, where the birds had stood nearly shoulder to shoulder. Even if there was only one bird in every square yard, the numbers would almost exceed belief.

After the middle of September the ponds about Boston where shooting is forbidden are frequented daily by this bird. The numbers are sometimes so great that the authorities have at times been alarmed lest the waters of the reservoirs be polluted by the droppings of the birds, or by typhoid baccilli, which they fear may be carried on the feet or plumage from sewage on which the gulls feed. I have made especial note of the gulls visiting the Back Bay Basin of Boston, bounded by Boston and Cambridge, and the center of a great area of brick and mortar. For some years past the tides have been excluded and the water is fresh. The gulls do not spend the night here, but come in from the sea, flying high over the houses at sunrise or from time to time during the day. At times companies of many hundreds ride the water. Later in the winter the gulls collect in great flocks on the ice. I have seen several acres of ice here, as well as on Fresh Pond, Cambridge, covered thickly with gulls. The duration of the visits of the gulls to the fresh-water ponds varies. Sometimes they fly back to the harbor or sea within half an hour, sometimes they tarry much longer; but, as often happens, some are coming and going all day, so it is difficult to say how long the majority remain. However that may be, the ponds are deserted by them at sunset. On one occasion a large flock of gulls remained in Charles River Basin as late as 9 o’clock on a mild December night. It is possible that some food may be obtained on the surface of these bodies of fresh water, but the gulls appear to spend most of their time there gossiping in groups as they float in closely crowded ranks on the surface of the water or stand shoulder to shoulder on the ice.

The subject of the drinking of fresh water has already been discussed above. As the gulls do not spend the night in the small freshwater ponds on the coast, and as they fly toward the sea at sunset, it is evident that they must spend the night on or near salt water. One such night chamber – it can not be called a roost – I have found off the beach at Revere, close to Boston. Here in November and December I have seen great companies of these splendid white birds gathering about sunset from a quarter to a third of a mile offshore. Sometimes there are two groups of many hundreds each. Once I saw one that looked like a coral atoll, for it was annular with a calm, open area in the middle. I have seen these birds in a strong offshore wind keep in exactly the same place; so it was evident that each bird, headed up into the wind, must have been paddling hard. This, to our way of thinking, would seem to be a poor manner in which to spend the night – sleep walking with a vengeance. It is possible and indeed probable that later in the evening and during the night, when the beach is free from human intrusion, the birds seek rest on the beach. In fact at sunrise one December day I saw a large flock of herring gulls at Revere, partly on the beach and partly in the water. In the summer at Ipswich the gulls often spend the night on the beach, although they sometimes resort to the marshes and doubtless also sleep on the water. Many of them fly to the small rocky islands, the Salvages, off the end of Cape Ann, and there, secure from human intrusion, spend the night. In some regions herring gulls roost in trees during the night.

It is stated that sometimes herring gulls follow a vessel for food for many miles and even across the Atlantic Ocean. Anthony (1906) states that herring gulls turn back some 25 miles at sea on the Pacific coast.

Breeding range: In North America east to the Atlantic coast. South to central Maine (Penobscot Bay), central New York (Lake Champlain, Hamilton, Herkimer, and Oneida Counties), southern Ontario (Great Lakes), northern Wisconsin (Green Bay), northern Michigan (Sanilac County), central Minnesota (Mille Lacs), southern Manitoba (Shoal Lake), and central British Columbia (Sabine Lake). The western and northern limits are uncertain. Saskatchewan and North Dakota records are confused with californicus; breeding records from Forrester and Kodiak Islands, the Alaska Peninsula, Mount McKinley region, and Yukon River are not substantiated by specimens and may refer to thayeri. A breeding female has been taken at Lake Tagish, Yukon. For the same reason the northern limits which extend up to southern Ellesmere Land are equally uncertain. The species breeds in Iceland, the British Isles, and in Europe east to the White and Baltic Seas and south to northern France.

Breeding grounds protected in the following national reservations: In Alaska, Forrester Island; in Michigan, Huron Island, and Siskiwit Islands; in Wisconsin. Gravel Island and Green Bay; in Canada, protected on Perc Rock.

Winter range: From the Great Lakes irregularly and the Gulf of St. Lawrence rarely, southward to Bermuda, the West Indies (Cuba and Jamaica), and the Gulf of Mexico (Florida, Texas, and Yucatan) ; on the Pacific coast from British Columbia (Puget Sound), south to Mexico (Tres Marias Islands) ; in Europe from the British Isles south to the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean; and east to the Black and Caspian Seas.

Spring migration: Dates of ear]y arrival: Prince Edward Island, April 1; Quebec, April 10; Montreal, April 13; Ottawa, March 13; Wisconsin, Madison, March 2; Minnesota, Heron Lake, March 20; Manitoba, Aweme, April 2; Alberta, Edmonton, May 1; Mackenzie, Fort Simpson, May 14; Franklin, Bay of Mercy, May 31, and Prince of Wales Strait, June 7. Dates of late departure: Florida, Clearwater Harbor, May 21; North Carolina, Pea Island, May 3; Maryland, Baltimore, May 28; Rhode Island, Providence, June 12; Massachusetts, Woods Hole, July 4 (average June 11); Louisiana, New Orleans, March 25; Missouri, St. Louis, May 28 (average April 15); Illinois, Chicago, June 15 (average April 23).

Fall migration: Average dates of arrival: Massachusetts, Woods Hole, August 21; New Jersey, Jersey City, September 21; Georgia, Savannah, November 3; Iowa, Keokuk, October 8. Average dates of departure; Ungava, Fort Chimo, September 18; Labrador, Nakvak, October; Montreal, November 5; Ontario, Ottawa, November 7; Mackenzie, Fort Resolution, September 22; Manitoka, Killarney, October 18.

Egg dates: ~1aine: Forty-eight records, May 4 to August 8; twenty-four records, June 12 to 30. Michigan: Twenty-five records, May 21 to June 24; thirteen records, May 27 to June 10. Gulf of St. Lawrence: Nine records, June 7 to 23. Great Britain: Nine records, April 28 to May 20; five records, May 12 to 20.

This bird, thought to be a Herring x Glaucous hybid, never received full species status.


This large gray-winged gull of the Pacific coast and Bering Sea is so rare that its status, as a species, is none too well established, though the four specimens which had been studied by Doctor Dwight (1906) led him to the conclusion that nelsoni seems to have as good. a claim for specific distinctness as does kumlieni, of which it appears to be a large edition.” Nothing seems to be known about its breeding habits or its breeding range.

Plumages: Doctor Dwight (1906) after examining the scanty material available, suggests the following, regarding the probable plumage changes of this rare species: The young bird has never been described, but inasmuch as kumlieni in juvenal plumage Is scarcely to be distinguished from glaucesens, there is every reason for expecting the corresponding plumage of nelsoni to be practically the same. The birds, though, ought to be larger than glaucesens, and I have no doubt that very large specimens now labeled “glaucescens” in various collections will eventually prove to be nelsoni. Such a bird has been recorded In the British Museum Catalogue, but somehow I overlooked it when examining the collection. In the American Museum, however, I find two specimens (Nos. 26234 and 61536) so much larger than glaucescens usually is that I believe them to be nelsoni. The tarsi and feet are unusually large and massive and the bills very heavy. The bird in the Philadelphia Academy is completing an adult post-nuptial moult, but the other specimens throw very little light on the subject of moult in this species.

I have never recognized the bird in life and can not find anything in print regarding its habits, in which it probably closely resembles Kumlien’s and the glaucous-winged gulls. Some day, when its breeding grounds are discovered, we may know more about it. I am inclined to think that it may prove to be identical with Larus kumlieni, or at best only subspecifically distinct from it. The fact that a young gull, possibly referable to kumlieni, has been taken on the coast of California adds weight to this theory, which may be established when more material has been collected.

Range: Three specimens taken in Alaska – St. Michael, June 20; near Bering Strait; and Point Barrow, September 5. One taken in Lower California, San Geronimo Island, March 18. One taken in Hawaiian Islands, Hilo, March 13. One taken on Vancouver Island, December 20. Its ranges and migration are otherwise unknown.

now lumped with Herring Gull


This (so-called) species seems to be nothing more nor less than a dark-backed herring gull, and I doubt very much if it will prove to be more than subspecifically distinct from Larus argentatus, if even that. Mr. William H. Kobbe (1902) has presented a very thorough and convincing argument to prove that the two forms intergrade, and suggests that but one species be recognized. The characters on which Larus vegae is supposed to stand have been apparently confused with those of Larus cachtnnans, or are variable and unsatisfactory. For a full discussion of the merits of the case I would refer the readers to Mr. Kobbe’s excellent paper.

The distribution of the Vega gull has not been very thoroughly worked out, for our knowledge of the bird life of the region it in habits is very meager. Until the limits of its breeding range are well known, and until a large series of specimens have been collected in that region, the correct status of the species can not be determined.

If not identical with the herring gull it is certainly closely related to it, and its habits, so far as we know, are similar. It is therefore fair to assume that its life history closely resembles that of the commoner species, due allowance being made for any differences in environment.

Nesting: There are three sets of eggs of this species in the author’s collection, all of which were taken by Mr. Johan Koren at the mouth of the River Kolyma in northeastern Siberia, where he found it an abundant species along the Arctic coast. Two of these nests were photographed for illustration in this work. The first nest was located on a shelf on a steep bluff 200 feet high, on the bank of the river, where glaucous gulls were also nesting. It contained three eggs, which were nearly ready to hatch on July 10. Another set of three eggs, incubated about 15 days, was taken on July 2. A large nest of moss and straws had been built over the root of a stranded tree trunk, which drifted onto a low, grass-grown islet of the delta. The third set was taken on July 6 and consisted of two eggs, incubated seven days. The nest was made of moss and straws in a bog on a low island of the delta; a colony of six pairs of Vega gulls were breeding on the island.

Eggs: The above three sets of eggs are so different in coloring that they are worth describing, as representing the usual variations in eggs of this species. In the first set the ground color is “deep olive buff”; the eggs are sparingly spotted over the entire surface with rather small spots of “fuscous,” “Vandyke brown,” “Dresden brown,” and “chestnut brown,” over underlying spots and blotches varying from “pale drab gray” to “hair brown.” The second set is paler, “olive buff,” one egg having a decidedly greenish tinge; this latter egg is heavily and fantastically blotched with dark shades of chestnut brown ” and “Vandyke brown.” The third set represents the brownish type; the ground color carries from dull ” snuff brown” to dull “tawny olive”; the three eggs are all heavily spotted, chiefly about the larger ends, with confluent spots of “hair brown,” “drab,” “warm sepia,” and dark ” Vandyke brown.” All of these eo~s could be closely matched with similar types of herring gull’s eggs, which they resemble in general appearance. The measurements of 30 eggs, in various collections, average 70.4 by 49.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 77.5 by 50.5, 75.5 by 53.1 and 65 by 47.5 millimeters.

Plumages: The downy is similar to that of the herring gull, but what specimens I have seen average darker gray in color, less huffy, and are somewhat more heavily spotted with black. Although specimens of this bird are scarce in collections, I have seen enough to convince me that the molts and plumages are similar to those of the herring gull.

Winter: Our check list states that this species migrates south in winter to Japan, and does not mention any southward migration down the Pacific coast of North America; but Mr. Kobbe (1902) collected a series of herring gulls in San Francisco Bay during December, 1900, and January, March, and April, 1901, some of which might easily be referred to this form. His series, and that of the California Academy of Sciences, show every gradation of color, from the darkest vega to the lightest herring gull. The more one studies such material the less faith one has in Larns vegae as a species.

Breeding range: Nort.heastern Siberia, known to breed on the Kolyma River and its delta; Cape Boishaja Baranof; Cape Kibera Island; and coast of Tchonkatch (Idligass Island). Taken in summer, and probably breeds on the Siberian coast from the Taimir Peninsula and the Liakoff Islands to Plover Bay and Kamchatka. Alaska breeding records are doubtful.

Winter range: South along the coasts of Japan and China to Formosa and the Bonin Islands. Records from the Pacific coast of the United States are usually not accepted.

Spring migration: Northward along the Asiatic coast. China, Formosa Channel, March 9; Japan. Kanagana, March 29; Saghalin Island, June 2 (may breed there).

Fall migration: Eastward to Norton Sound, Alaska, and then southward along the Asiatic coast. Alaska, Nome, August 31; St. Michael, October 16.

Casual records: Taken at Laysan Island and Marcus Island in the Pacific Ocean.

Egg dates: Northeastern Siberia: Eight records, June 4 to July 12; four records, June 24 to July 6.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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