Herring gull

Herring Gull

Herring gull ©Gillian Day

Herring Gull juvenile

©Jon Hawkins/Surrey Hills Photography

Herring gull

Scientific name: Larus argentatus
Swooping in and stealing your chips or ice-cream, the herring gull is the typical 'seagull' of our seaside resorts. A large gull, it is similar in appearance to the Common Gull, but sports a distinctive red spot on its bill.

Species information


Length: 55-67cm
Wingspan: 1.4m
Weight: 950g-1.2kg
Average lifespan: 12 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

January to December


The herring gull is a familiar sight of our seaside towns, particularly during the breeding season. In winter it can be found on farmland, wetland and coastal habitats, inland landfill sites, playing fields, and reservoirs throughout the UK. The distinctive red spot on its bill spurred one of the classic studies in animal behaviour in the 1950s, led by Niko Tinbergen. Having seen gull chicks peck at their parents' bills to encourage them to regurgitate food, he tried various dummy, parent shapes and colours to see the chicks' response. He discovered that gull chicks will peck at any long, yellow thing with a red spot in order to get food. In other words, gull chicks have a built-in preference from birth for their parents' bills: a worthwhile survival mechanism.

How to identify

Gulls can be very difficult to tell apart, especially immature birds. Adult herring gulls are silvery-grey above and white below, with pink legs. They have a white head (streaky during the winter) and black wingtips with white spots. They have a yellow bill with a red spot near the tip.


Widespread. Nests around the coast on clifftops, rooftops and islands.

Did you know?

Herring gulls were once thought to be very common around the northern hemisphere. In recent years, however, scientists have realised that there are, in fact, several similar, closely related species of 'herring gull' including the yellow-legged gull, the American herring gull, the Caspian gull and our own, European herring gull.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a Living Seas vision, where coastal and marine wildlife thrives alongside the sustainable use of the ocean's resources. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.