A-z - Animals


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key point

  • Seagulls are found on all continents of the world, including the Arctic and Antarctica.
  • Commercial fishing operations are the gull's primary food source. These actions have a major impact on the gull's habitat as they follow their food.
  • Unlike most animals, seagulls can drink both fresh and salt water.
Seagull One

© AZ-Animals.com

"In traditional Native American culture, the seagull is a symbol of versatility and freedom."

Among the most tenacious and intelligent foragers on the planet, seagulls belong to a family of birds that live near the coast. More than 50 documented species are found worldwide. The most common species you're probably familiar with are the European herring gull and the American herring gull, but there's a lot of diversity throughout the family. This article will cover some interesting facts about the appearance, behavior and diet of seagulls.

seagull vs eagle

Gulls do share some superficial resemblance to hawks, including large bodies and hooked beaks, but gulls are not generally considered birds of prey. They are more closely related to puffins, plovers and other shorebirds, while hawks are related to kites and bald eagles.

3 Unbelievable Seagull Facts!

  • Seagulls are considered to be among the smartest birds in the world. Some gulls will throw mollusc shells over rocks to break them open. Others were observed using bread as bait. One of the most amazing facts is that they can remember new foraging strategies and pass them on to the next generation of gulls.
  • Unlike most animals, seagulls can drink both fresh and salt water. A specialized gland just above the eye collects the salt and flushes it out through the nostrils.
  • Seagulls have a small claw in the middle of their lower legs that allows them to perch on high ledges without falling off.

where to find seagulls

A ring-billed gull stands on a rock admiring a rainbow.
Gulls are large intelligent birds found on every continent including Antarctica and the Arctic

© iStock.com/PaulReevesPhotography

Most gulls can be found near coastal habitats around the world, especially in the northern hemisphere. Some gulls travel far inland during the non-breeding season, but otherwise stay close to marine habitats.

Seagulls are found on every continent in the world, including Antarctica and the Arctic. They generally prefer coastal plains and often form large groups on small islands near the coastline. They are less fond of the tropics, but can be found there as well. The greatest impact on their distribution is the availability of food. Seagulls are opportunistic and will follow their food sources. Therefore, human fishing activities played an important role in their distribution and population density.

the bird's nest

Most gulls build their nests in hollow depressions in the ground (and sometimes cliffs) using vegetation, feathers, rope, or even plastic. The nest is usually located next to a rock, log or bush to protect it from predators.

evolution and origin

most dangerous bird
Seagulls are distant relatives of puffins and skuas

© Maciej Olszewski/Shutterstock.com

Seagulls belong to the large family of seabirds known as the Laridae. This vast collective consists of 22 genera and 100 species, and also includes kittiwakes, terns and petrels. Before the Cretaceous period (ie, 6.6 to 145 million years ago), the Laridae were descendants of puffins and skuas. Gulls are thus their distant relatives, although the Laridae continued to diverge from this clade during the Cretaceous. Biodiversity followed during the Paleocene epoch, about 60 million years ago. Evidence for gulls has also been found during the early Oligocene period, 30 to 33 million years ago. What's more, species related to seagulls have also been reported to have been found in France, dating back to the Miocene epoch, approximately 23 to 5.3 million years ago.


seagull on rocks in water
Several gull species have snow-white head and breast feathers, and silvery wing feathers.


There are 51 species of seagulls, some of the common ones are:

  • California Gull ( Larus californicus ): These gulls are found in lakes and swamps from Canada to Colorado. They spend their days on the water looking for food, or head to parks and beaches, where they approach beachgoers to ask for food.
  • Dolphin Gull ( Leucophaeus scoresbii ): Recognizable by its mottled head feathers and reddish beak, this species can be found in Argentina and Chile. It tends to form hundreds of birds and nests on cliffs or sandy beaches.
  • Herring Gull (Larus argentatus): Found throughout Europe except in the south, this species is abundant in Great Britain, Iceland and Ireland. It is somewhat omnivorous, with a diet often consisting of crustaceans, fish, plants, and food stolen from unsuspecting humans.
  • Pacific Gull ( Larus pacificus ): Native to Australia, this large gull is noted for its white head, orange-red beak, and dark wing and back feathers. It primarily feeds on crustaceans and is also adept at stealing food from other birds.
  • Ivory Gull ( Pagophila eburnea ): At first glance, this smaller species could be mistaken for a pigeon. It is characterized by snow-white plumage and a blue-yellow pointed beak. Ivory Gulls breed in North America, Greenland, and Eurasia.
  • Black-headed Gull ( Chroicocephalus ridibundus ): Its main distinguishing feature is its black head feathers, which turn white in winter. This species has been known to carefully remove any eggshells from the nest once the young have hatched. It can be found throughout Europe and parts of Canada, China and Japan.
  • Black-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus bulleri): Remarkable for its black beak, predominantly snow-white head and breast, and wings covered with pale silver feathers, this gull is also known for its color change from black to red during the mating season. Known for legs. It is located in New Zealand, the only home of what it is called tarāpuka in Māori.
  • Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawensis): This gull that breeds in North America and Canada is instantly recognizable by its short yellow bill and thick black band near the tip. The feathers on its wings are silver, the feathers on its head, neck and chest are white, and the feathers on its tail are black.

(Other species containing a general list can be seen in the last section of the article.)

Size, Appearance and Behavior

Seagulls are social birds that live in groups along the coast

© iStock.com/autina

Gulls are easily recognizable by their large, bulky bodies, strong legs, long wings, and thick bills that end in a hook. Their bodies are usually covered in white, gray, and sometimes black plumage, but the color of the head varies by species. While herring gulls in the United States and Europe have white heads, several species, including the Franklin's gull, lesser gull, and swallow-tailed gull, have black heads. In winter, the head feathers often turn a mottled gray (or white if it was originally black). Depending on the species, gulls can measure anywhere from 11 to 30 inches from head to tail.

Gulls live in loose, scattered groups along the coast. Colonies can consist of anywhere from a few pairs to thousands. Breeding pairs mostly hold their own territory and fend off intruders, but they do gather together to hunt and forage. A foraging trip is a rowdy event, with constant movement and noise. Each bird is basically left to fend for itself. They will often steal food from other animals and each other. Gulls communicate through several different calls to show aggression, identify mating partners, warn groups of threats, and resolve territorial disputes. Chicks also beg for food from their parents.

Migration Mode and Timing

Most species of gulls do migrate south for the winter. Some journeys span just a few miles in search of better foraging opportunities, while other birds complete long-distance migrations of thousands of miles. Perhaps the longest journey is undertaken by the Franklin's Gull, which migrates annually from Canada all the way to South America.


what seagulls eat
Gulls eat fish, rodents, mollusks and insects.

© AZ-Animals.com

Most gulls are obligate carnivores and sometimes include some plant matter in their diet. They often forage for as much food as they can from the ocean, beach, or land surface. These bold birds will even snatch food straight from the hands of humans.

What do seagulls eat?

Seagulls eat a wide range of different foods. Its diet usually consists of fish, insects, earthworms, molluscs, rodents, small reptiles and amphibians, fruits and seeds, and even other birds and their eggs. They wander the same scavenging spots every day, or fly high in the air, swooping down to hunt their prey. However, they cannot dive deep into the ocean's surface.

Want to know more details about what seagulls eat? Give us a complete guide to "What Do Seagulls Eat?"

Predators, threats and conservation status

sea mink
Mink are known to prey on gull chicks and gull eggs

© Needsmoreritalin / CC BY-SA 3.0 – License

Gulls are highly versatile and adaptable birds. The vast majority are considered species of least concern by the IUCN Red List, although several such as the lava gull and kittiwake are vulnerable to extinction. Climate change, pollution, loss of coastal habitat, overfishing and deliberate hunting may be responsible for the downward trend.

What do seagulls eat?

Gulls and gull eggs are often preyed on by raccoons, minks, foxes, cats and birds of prey. Adult gulls are less at risk of being eaten, but they are sometimes preyed upon by particularly large and dangerous predators. Flocks of gulls will usually mob a predator, driving it away by attacking with their wings and feet.

Breeding, Pups, and Moulting

Sabine Gull
Male and female gulls take turns incubating and caring for their chicks

© zahorec/Shutterstock.com

Breeding season for gulls usually occurs in early spring after their annual migration back to the same location. They do show a tendency to choose the same mate for life, and can strengthen their bond through reciprocal feeding exercises. After mating, the female lays up to three eggs per year. The parents will take turns incubating the eggs for about a month while the other hunts for food.

Parents will continue to feed the chicks until they have fully fledged a month or two after hatching. Many juvenile plumage are mottled brown compared to the more solid adult plumage. It usually takes several years to reach full sexual maturity. Many species can live to be 30 years old; the oldest recorded specimen is a 49-year-old Hooded Gull.


Seagulls at Pimatunion Reservoir, Ohio
Seagulls still number in the millions globally despite declines in some species

©Patrick baehl de Lescure/Shutterstock.com

Unfortunately, gull populations are on the decline. The herring gull's breeding population, estimated at about 246,000 pairs, is actually below its peak. Gull populations are estimated to have declined by about 83 percent from 1966 to 2015. There are millions of seagulls worldwide.

Gull species

  • Alduin Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii)
  • Andean Gull (Chroicocephalus serranus)
  • Armenian Gull (Larus armenicus)
  • Belcher's Gull (Larus belcheri)
  • Black-tailed Gull (Larus crassirostris)
  • Common Gull (Larus canus)
  • Gray Gull (Leucophaeus modestus)
  • Icelandic Gull (Larus glaucoides)
  • Little Seagull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)
  • Hartlaube's Gull (Chroicocephalus hartlaubii)
  • Lava Gull (Leucophaeus fuliginosus)
  • Sanders Gull (Saundersilarus saundersi)
  • Black Gull (Ichthyaetus hemprichii)
  • Orrog's Gull (Larus atlanticus)
  • Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
  • Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)
  • Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus)
  • Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)
  • Herring Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae)
  • Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus)
  • Larus heermanni
  • Bonaparte Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
  • White-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens)
  • Short-billed Gull (Larus brachyrhynchus)
  • Franklin Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
  • Caspian Gull (Larus cachinnans)
  • White Gull (Larus hyperboreus)
  • Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus)
  • Brown-crowned Gull (Chroicocephalus maculipennis)
  • Grey-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus)
  • Thin-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei)
  • Yellow-footed Gull (Larus livens)
  • Pallas Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus)
  • Xema sabini
  • Plate-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus)
  • Swallow-tailed Gull (Creagrus furcatus)
  • Brown-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus)
  • White-eyed Gull (Ichthyaetus leucophthalmus)
  • Ross Gull (Rhodostethia rosea)
  • Relict Gull (Ichthyaetus relictus)
  • Red-footed Kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris)


  • Seagull Lifespan: How Long Do Seagulls Live? Want to learn more about seagulls? Click here for more information.
  • What do seagulls eat? 25+ Foods Seagulls Love Commercial fishing has a big impact on seagulls. Click here to learn more about their feeding habits.
  • Albatross vs Gulls: What Are the Main Differences? You've probably heard of albatrosses, but can you tell what they look like? Read on to find out.

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Gulls are medium to large seabirds that live in coastal areas around the world.

Northern populations do tend to migrate south for the winter.

Most gulls can lay a clutch of up to three eggs at a time.

Most gulls fly at 20 to 40 miles per hour.

The largest species is the great black-backed gull, with a wingspan of more than 5 feet. A typical American Herring Gull has a wingspan of 4 to 5 feet.

Gulls tend to be large, stocky birds with long wings and thin legs. The beak is long and hooked at the end, with darker or lighter markings on the tip. Most species are covered with plain white, gray and black plumage.

Seagulls will eat just about any small animal they can find. Fish and molluscs are their favorites, but they are truly opportunistic birds.

Yes, these seabirds are very smart. They demonstrated many different strategies for obtaining food, including some limited tool use.

As anyone who's been to the beach can probably attest, seagulls are among the most tenacious birds in the world. They will steal food from other animals or humans for a simple meal.