Herring gulls are large gulls and one of the commonest in Western Europe. In Scotland, the Western herring gull is a common resident bird. Adults have light grey backs, black wingtips with white spots, white heads and underparts. The herring gull has a powerful hooked yellow bill with a distinctive red spot near the point, as well as flesh-coloured legs. In winter, their heads have grey-brown streaks and a duller bill. They typically breed along rocky coastlines, but are a common sight outside of the breeding season in winter on playing fields, reservoirs and agricultural land.
The herring gull is a predator and scavenger that will eat almost anything vertebrate or invertebrate available. The herring gull is the typical ‘seagull’ of seaside resorts known for swooping in and stealing a cone of chips or ice-cream. It can also be seen rallying around fishing boats or refuse dumps where they will happily snatch another bird’s meal. They spend much of their time perched near food sources, often in congregations. In flight, the herring gull appears determined and powerful, with a deep down-stroke.
This gull will fiercely defend its territory with aggressive behaviour and its loud, clear and striking laughing display call of ‘au-kyee-kau-kau-kau’ is a familiar sound in seaside towns and cities. The alarm call is a yelping ‘kyow’, whilst a low barked ‘gagagag’ is a sign of anxiety.
- Length: 55-67cm
- Wingspan: 130-150cm
- Weight: 0.8–1.45kg (males are larger than females)
- Average Lifespan: 12 years
Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (2015 update). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and priority species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework. There has been a steep decline in numbers in Scotland, with breeding pairs decreasing by 55% between 1969 and 2002. Reasons for this decline, which has been mirrored in other parts of the UK, are poorly understood.
Common resident breeding bird in Scotland, with colonies around the entire coast.
When to see
All year round.
- Herring gulls take four years to reach adult plumage. The juveniles are mottled brown; second-year birds are brown, but show grey on the back. Third-year juveniles have more grey on the back and more white on the head and underparts. The legs are dull pink (flesh colour) at all ages. It is possible, to identify first, second, third-year gulls and adults in a single colony, but this requires very skillful observations.
- According to the Seabird, 2000 survey, Scotland hosts almost 50% of the UK breeding population of herring gulls, the majority breeding in coastal areas.