Sub-tropical to sub-polar latitudes of Europe and west Asia
Nest on rocky shores; feed in freshwater and coastal waters
Order Charadriiformes (gulls, auks, and relatives), Family Laridae (gulls)
The European herring gull is a large seagull – one of approximately 55 species of seagulls – that lives along the North Atlantic coast of Europe and westernmost Asia. Adults have mostly white heads and bodies and grey wings. It is a common species throughout its range and can be distinguished from superficially similar species by body size and location. The European herring gull reaches more than two feet (60 cm) and is one of the larger gulls in Europe.
Like many seagulls, the European herring gull eats a variety of prey and will both hunt and scavenge for suitable food. They forage for a variety of living, coastal invertebrates and for human garbage. In today’s human ecosystem, garbage accounts for a large percentage of this gull’s diet. When other seabirds form nesting colonies, European herring gulls will attack nests and eat both eggs and juvenile birds. During nesting season, their diet becomes more heavily weighted toward small, pelagic fishes. Individuals in the northernmost part of the range migrate to warmer latitudes during the winter and back to their nesting areas in the spring.
Like all seabirds, European herring gulls nest on land. Males arrive to nesting areas first and defend territories, which the females will only approach if they are interested in mating. They reproduce via internal fertilization, and the females lay fertilized eggs directly on the ground, along both rocky shores and sandy beaches. Both males and females incubate the eggs and care for the chicks. In some cases, European herring gulls mate for life.
The European herring gull is a common species throughout its range and is a species of least conservation concern. In some places, however, populations are decreasing, a likely result of disease, pollution, and habitat loss. This negative trend is not currently a threat to the species existence. In degraded systems, European herring gulls may actually increase in numbers. They are successful in the human ecosystem and thrive in areas with high human disturbance (like construction sites and landfill operations).
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.