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Young herring gull and lesser black-backed gull

© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Kari Pihlaviita, Jouko Lehmuskallio, M., W. & F. von Wright: Svenska fåglar (Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland), Pohjolan linnut värikuvin. Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.

Herring Gull

Larus argentatus

  • Name also: European Herring Gull
  • Family: Gulls – Laridae
  • Appearance: A large gull resembling a Common Gull in colouring, with a strong beak and “stern-looking” eyes. Young birds are covered in brown markings.
  • Size: Length 54–60 cm (21–23 in), wingspan 123–148 cm (48–58 in), weight 640–1,700 g (1.4–3.7 lb), males larger.
  • Nest: Carefully made of dried grasses, moss and lichen, on a rock ledge, between stones on rocky ground, or on a tussock in marshland.
  • Breeding: 1–3 eggs (occasionally 4) laid from late April, incubated by both parents for 25–28 days. Young birds able to fly within 46–62 days.
  • Distribution: Breeds along all of Finland’s coasts, in marshland and around lakes as far north as Lapland. Has become more abundant in recent times. Population currently estimated at 30,000–40,000 pairs.
  • Diet: Omnivorous. Often scavenges at landfill sites.
  • Calls: A striking echoing shriek, and a piercing high-pitched “klioo”.
  • Endangerment: Vulnerable, unprotected most part of the year.

Herring Gulls are the second largest of Finland’s typical gulls, after the Great Black-backed Gull. Adults have bluish grey backs with black wingtips marked with white spots on their tips (as on Common Gulls). Their heads, necks and underparts are white. The feathers of juvenile Herring Gulls’ heads, necks and backs are generally grey-brown, with yellowish edges and spots. Their bellies are greyish white with many brownish spots and streaks. Their wing feathers are dark brown (compared to almost black on young Lesser Black-backed Gulls), and their inner primaries form a pale patch (absent on young Lesser Black-backed Gulls).

Herring Gulls have four phases in their life cycle, and many different plumages. From their second winter onwards, they have grey backs and yellow irises. Older Herring Gulls have pink legs, while younger birds’ legs are brownish grey. Mature birds’ beaks are yellow with paler tips, and a red spot on the lower bill, which develops during their third winter. Younger birds have dark reddish beaks. Irises are pale yellow on adults and dark brown to paler yellow on juveniles.

Herring Gulls often fly high in the sky in v-shaped formations between their roosts and feeding areas, and such flocks can even resemble skeins of cranes.

Two closely related species can occasionally be seen in Finland, the Caspian Gull (L. cachinnans) and the Yellow-legged Gull (L. michahellis), but identification of these birds is challenging and requires excellent observation conditions. Only adult Yellow-legged Gulls have yellow legs.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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