The male European herring gull is 60–67 cm long and weighs 1,050–1,525 g , while the female is 55–62 cm  and weighs 710–1,100 g . The wingspan can range from 125 to 155 cm . Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 38 to 48 cm , the bill is 4.4 to 6.5 cm and the tarsus is 5.3 to 7.5 cm. Adults in breeding plumage have a grey back and upper wings and white head and underparts. The wingtips are black with white spots known as “mirrors”. The bill is yellow with a red spot and a ring of bare yellow skin is seen around the pale eye. The legs are normally pink at all ages, but can be yellowish, particularly in the Baltic population, which was formerly regarded as a separate subspecies “L. a. omissus”. Non-breeding adults have brown streaks on their heads and necks. Male and female plumage are identical at all stages of development, but adult males are often larger.

Juvenile and first-winter birds are mainly brown with darker streaks and have a dark bill and eyes. Second-winter birds have a whiter head and underparts with less streaking and the back is grey. Third-winter individuals are similar to adults, but retain some of the features of immature birds such as brown feathers in the wings and dark markings on the bill. The European herring gull attains adult plumage and reaches sexual maturity at an average age of four years.

Their loud, laughing call is well known in the Northern Hemisphere, and is often seen as a symbol of the seaside.

Like most gulls, European herring gulls are long-lived, with a maximum age of 49 years recorded.

Distribution and Habitat

One of the best-known of all gulls along the shores of  Europe, it was always abundant. It breeds across Northern Europe, Western Europe, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and the Baltic states. Some European herring gulls, especially those resident in colder areas, migrate further south in winter, but many are permanent residents, e.g. in Ireland, Britain, Iceland, or on the North Sea shores.


These are omnivores and opportunists like most Larus gulls, and scavenge from garbage dumps, landfill sites, and sewage outflows, with refuse comprising up to half of the bird’s diet. It also steals the eggs and young of other birds (including those of other gulls), as well as seeking suitable small prey in fields, on the coast or in urban areas, or robbing plovers or lapwings of their catches.

European herring gulls may also dive from the surface of the water or engage in plunge diving in the pursuit of aquatic prey, though they are typically unable to reach depths greater than 1–2 m  due to their natural buoyancy. Despite their name, they have no special preference for herrings — in fact, examinations have shown that echinoderms and crustaceans comprised a greater portion of these gulls’ stomach contents than fish, although fish is the principal element of regurgitations for nestlings. European herring gulls can frequently be seen to drop shelled prey from a height to break the shell. In addition, the European herring gull has been observed using pieces of bread as bait with which to catch goldfish.Vegetable matter, such as roots, tubers, seeds, grains, nuts, and fruit, is also taken to an extent. Captive European herring gulls typically show aversion to spoiled meat or heavily salted food, unless they are very hungry. The gulls may also rinse food items in water in an attempt to clean them or render them more palatable before swallowing.

If a few birds discover a piece of food, the first one to land by the food piece often unfolds its wings (together with a sound) to proclaim “this food is mine”. This is very often opposed by another gull, and during a short fight, a third bird may grab the food while the two other are arguing. However, if much food is found, especially at a “dangerous location” (such as in the backyard of a tall building), the bird that discovered the food will call to other gulls close by (of any species). The first bird may dare to land, but waits before eating; the others then feel safe to land, and they eat. If a large feast is found at a safer location, the gull that discovers it calls to other gulls, but starts eating immediately. The conclusion is that if more food is available than one bird can eat, it shares the food with other gulls.


Unlike many flocking birds, European herring gulls do not engage in social grooming and keep physical contact between individuals to a minimum. Outside the male/female and parent/chick relationships, each gull attempts to maintain a respectful ‘safe distance’ from others of its kind. However, the bird must be considered a social bird that dislikes being alone, and fights mainly occur over food or to protect their eggs and chicks.

A nesting site is chosen by both birds which is returned to in successive years. European herring gulls are almost exclusively sexually monogamous and may pair up for life, provided the couple is successful in hatching their eggs. Two to four eggs, usually three, are laid on the ground or cliff ledges in colonies, and are defended vigorously by this large gull. The eggs are usually olive-brown in colour with dark speckles or blotches. They are incubated by both parents for 28–30 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes open, covered with fluffy down, and they are able to walk around within hours

Juveniles use their beaks to peck at the red spot on the beaks of adults to indicate hunger. Parents then typically disgorge food for their offspring. The young birds are able to fly 35–40 days after hatching and fledge at five or six weeks of age. Chicks are generally fed by their parents until they are 11–12 weeks old, but the feeding may continue for more than six months of age if the young gulls continue to beg. The male feeds the chick more often than the female before fledging, with the female more often feeding after fledging.

Conservation Status

Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)


European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)