sea gulls
Beach Birds, Birdwatching Information

Sea Gulls – Nature’s Boldest Bird?

SOME GENERAL FACTS ABOUT GULLS

  • Generally considered monogamous, they usually stay with the same partner season after season
  • Separation does occur sometimes, though, known as a divorce, usually occurring because of lack of success with breeding
  • Breeding does not usually occur until the fourth year of life
  • Same-sex couples do exist within gulls, usually between females, in populations with high female numbers
  • Gulls can live for twenty to forty years roughly, depending on the species
  • They are members of the Laridae family

Just in case you forgot, or have never heard it before, here is a typical sea gull cry, just to get you hyped up about this very distinctive bird we are going to be discussing in greater detail here.

“Sea Gull” In Other Languages

  • Arabic: نَوْرَس
  • Brazilian Portuguese: gaivota
  • Chinese: 海鸥
  • Croatian: galeb
  • Czech: racek
  • Danish: havmåge
  • Dutch: zeemeeuw
  • European Spanish: gaviota
  • Finnish: lokki
  • French: mouette
  • German: Möwe
  • Greek: γλάρος
  • Italian: gabbiano
  • Japanese: カモメ
  • Korean: 갈매기
  • Norwegian: måke
  • Polish: mewa
  • Portuguese: gaivota
  • Romanian: pescăruș pescăruși
  • Russian: чайка
  • Spanish: gaviota
  • Swedish: fiskmås
  • Thai: นกนางนวล
  • Turkish: martı
  • Ukrainian: чайка
  • Vietnamese: chim hải âu
sea gull peeking
Hmm…is that human having something to eat?

It should be no surprise that “Mew” is the old name for gulls of all types – their distinctive cries mimicking that of a cat somewhat, albeit a very loud shrieking and abrasive kitty!

Here is a quick video showing a baby sea gull crying. 

This may be a sound you’ve heard before, and it’s certainly less obnoxious than the adult sea gull “Feed me, human!” cry that many of us know all too well.

Now here we have a more typical sea gull scene. They’re so demanding, those birds!  They are becoming quite bold, as you might know from personal experience…

Despite their common name as “sea” gulls, most gulls actually do not venture that far out to sea – the notable exception to this being the Kittiwake.

Generally, they are inland dwellers which feed on fish, sea life and almost anything else that takes their fancy… including your ice cream! 

Here’s a video showing some very classic sea gull moves. 

It is behaviour like this that has earned these birds a collective reputation as petty criminals of the beach.  To be fair, who’s beach was it first…man or bird?

* At the bottom of this post we have collected a number of classic sea gull food-stealing videos that, while it doesn’t do a whole lot to ennoble the bold bird, they are pretty funny videos we must admit.  🙂

sea gull eating a french fry

A protected species of bird, one feels sometimes the humble sea gull knows only too damned well what it is doing, when it dive bombs tourists intent on their french fries. 

This noisy, highly-organized bird is well known for getting what it wants, and putting their well tuned scavenging talents to good use.

That said, it would be rare for a human to think of the plight of the sea gull as it devours our food. 

Actually, because the sea gull is a migratory bird that lives along the coast, their habitats are often quite fragile, and so their breeding grounds are often destroyed by humans and environmental impacts.

Basically, if we were to look closely, we, as humans, could see a lot of ourselves in sea gulls <!!>, because sea gulls are wily, opportunistic, and also resilient in many ways, just like your average defence lawyer. 

So, while we regularly decimate their breeding areas, and lessen their numbers, sea gulls are very good at bouncing back, and having their numbers proliferate, such that suddenly there are once again “too many” of them. 

sea gull nest

They are an oft-disrespected bird, but they aren’t the type of bird to take our abuse freely. 

Imagine, if you will, what a sea gull sees when the human population returns to what they most certainly think is their beach. 

Surely they are thinking “Oh no, not again!”, just as some people might think when they see a sea gull fly overhead, eyeing them.

Although gulls are credited as being monogamous, like humans, the truth is a little more complex.

“Divorces” do occur within their colonies, mostly for practical reasons like failing to breed, but sometimes rivalries develop between other mates, and as far as we can tell, it appears that they might just get sick of the sight of their partner’s beak!

One study showed that a particular species, the Black Legged Kittiwake, was more loyal to their breeding ground than their mates.

Gulls tend to reach maturity at about three or four years old – depending on the specific breed type – and both partners play important roles in chick rearing, right from nest building, to keeping the eggs warm, or going out food foraging.  

And like humans, these can all be a significant source of domestic strife!

herring gull eggs

The fact that clutch sizes (the number of eggs in one season) are so small (between one and three on average, also depending on which type of gull it is) makes the fact, that sometimes partners are less than faithful with each other, surprising.

Amongst seabirds in general, it is known that there is literally, a cuckoo in the nest, where papa is not the genetic father of the chick.  

Since some bird species may only raise one chick per season, there is an awful lot of effort put in by the hapless Daddy!

As anyone who has had the misfortune to have to sleep anywhere near a gull’s nest will know, the parent gulls (particularly mama!) are very protective of their young, and stand guard with an iron like and extremely noisy vigilance.  

The male bird will usually assume the role of feeder of the young.


AMERICAN HERRING GULL

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)
American Herring AKA Smithsonian Gull (source: Wikipedia Commons)

OFFICIAL NAME: LARUS SMITHSONIANUS
BODY LENGTH: 21-26 INCHES /53-66 CENTIMETERS
WING WIDTH:  47-61 INCHES /120-155 CENTIMETERS
WEIGHT: 2.31–3.64 LB/ 1,050–1,650 G
SIZE: LARGE
CLUTCH SIZE: THREE EGGS
DIET: SEA FOOD, OTHER BIRDS AND THEIR EGGS
*NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH EUROPEAN HERRING GULL
DISTINCTIVE FEATURES: HEAVILY BUILT, FULL ADULT IS MAINLY WHITE WITH SOME GRAY

This gull ranges from Alaska to North Carolina and parts of Canada for its breeding ground.  

Most of these birds like to head south when the weather turns cold, counting Mexico and even some parts of the Caribbean as their holiday homes.

Preferring to nest in colonies, they like to keep close to the water or the coast, and breed from April onwards.

Their distinctive cries are known as the “choking call” and the “long call”, and youngsters pining for their parents may sometimes emit a clicking sound.

Recently, it has been suggested that the American Herring Gull is not quite so closely related as may have been previously thought, to its very similar cousin, the European Herring Gull, which is a slightly smaller bird.

CALIFORNIAN GULL

OFFICIAL NAME: LARUS CALIFORNICUS
BODY LENGTH: 18 – 22 IN /46 – 55 CM
WING WIDTH: 48-54 INCHES/ 122-137 CM
WEIGHT: 0.948 – 2.304 LB/430 -1,045 G
SIZE: MEDIUM
CLUTCH SIZE: TWO TO THREE EGGS
DIET: INSECTS, EGGS, FISH
DISTINCTIVE FEATURES:  MAINLY WHITE AND GREY TIPPED

Californian Gull
Californian Gull (Source: utahbirds.org)

These created quite a stir in several areas of California for their rowdy behaviour, and prompted local officials to take action against them in 2013.  

Their population exploded among the San Francisco Bay area, and they seriously, had to be scared away.

Attracted primarily to marshes and lakes, they also love rubbish dumps, or anywhere else there is easy scavenging, and they are not afraid to make their presence felt!

The problem is, as well as being extremely antisocial to their human neighbors, when they descend in great droves from above, they are also a hazard to other, endangered species of birds and wildlife.

GREAT BLACK BACKED GULL

great black backed gull
Great Black Backed Gull

OFFICIAL NAME: LARUS MARINUS
BODY LENGTH: 30 INCHES/ 76 CMS
WING WIDTH: 65 INCHES/ 165 CMS
WEIGHT: 3.6 LBS/ 1.6 KG
SIZE: LARGE
DISTINCTIVE FEATURES: LARGE BLACK COLORED PATCH ON WING
LIFE EXPECTANCY: UP TO 27 YEARS
CLUTCH SIZE: THREE EGGS

The largest of all gulls, this impressive creature swoops in at about thirty inches tall, with a wingspan about the height of a small woman.

Bigger and stronger than others of the species, the Great Black Backed Gull’s cry is notably deeper, and has a distinctive laughing sound.

Once this large bird was a mere visitor to the North American coastline, preferring to breed elsewhere – in Northern Russia, Scandinavia, parts of Northern France, and the UK, and Ireland.  Now it has established colonies in the Americas, ranging from New England to, as far south as North Carolina.

It winters in the warmer climes of Europe, going as far south as Portugal, or if it prefers to stay in America, Florida is usually their destination.

Great Black-backed Gull 12 (Michael Finn)_lge
Great Black Backed Gull (Source: birdwatchireland.ie)

Not just limited to the coastline, they may be seen inland around wetlands, ponds, marshes and more recently, rubbish dumps.

During the month of March, the “unmarried” birds begin to pair off together, and established couples begin to look for their mates.

If one of a mated pair cannot find its partner, the remaining bird takes it upon itself to seek another partner, but they generally will not breed that season.

Females will usually lay three eggs in April, which typically take 28 days to incubate.

Both partners take turns with the incubation process.


MORE VIDEOS ON GULLS

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