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Birds Guide



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A Silver Gull, Lakes Entrance
A Silver Gull, Lakes Entrance
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Lari
Family: Laridae
Vigors, 1825

Gulls are birds in the family Laridae. They are most closely related to the terns (family Sternidae), auks and skimmers, and more distantly to the waders. Most gulls belong to the large genus Larus.

They are in general medium to large birds, typically grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet.

Most gulls, particularly Larus species, are ground nesting carnivores, which will take live food or scavenge opportunistically. The live food often includes crabs and small fish. Apart from the kittiwakes, gulls are typically coastal or inland species, rarely venturing far out to sea. The large species take up to four years to attain full adult plumage, but two years is typical for small gulls.

Gulls — the larger species in particular — are resourceful and highly-intelligent birds, demonstrating complex methods of communication and a highly-developed social structure. Certain species (e.g. the Herring Gull) have exhibited tool use behaviour. Many species of gull have learned to co-exist successfully with man and have thrived in human habitats. Others rely on Kleptoparasitism to get their food.

Two terms are in common usage among gull enthusiasts for subgroupings of the gulls:

  • Large white-headed gulls for the 16 Herring Gull-like species from Great Black-backed Gull to Lesser Black-backed Gull in the taxonomic list below
  • White-winged gulls for the two Arctic-breeding species Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull

Hybridisation between species of gull occurs quite frequently, although to varying degrees depending on the species involved (see Hybridisation in gulls). The taxonomy of the large white-headed gulls is particularly complicated.

In common usage, members of various gull species are often called sea gulls or seagulls. This name is used by laypeople to refer to a common local species or all gulls in general, and has no fixed taxonomic meaning.


Species list in taxonomic order

The American Ornithologists' Union combines Sternidae, Stercorariidae, and Rhynchopidae as subfamilies in the family Laridae.

Family Laridae

A Black-tailed Gull in flight.
A Black-tailed Gull in flight.
  • Dolphin Gull, Larus scoresbii
    Pacific Gull, Larus pacificus
    Belcher's Gull, Larus belcheri
    Olrog's Gull, Larus atlanticus
    Black-tailed Gull, Larus crassirostris
    Grey Gull, Larus modestus
    Heermann's Gull, Larus heermanni
    White-eyed Gull, Larus leucophthalmus
    Sooty Gull, Larus hemprichii
    Common Gull or Mew Gull, Larus canus
    Audouin's Gull, Larus audouinii
    Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
    California Gull, Larus californicus
    Great Black-backed Gull, Larus marinus
    Kelp Gull, Larus dominicanus
    Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens
    Western Gull, Larus occidentalis
    Yellow-footed Gull, Larus livens
    Glaucous Gull, Larus hyperboreus
    Iceland Gull, Larus glaucoides
    Thayer's Gull, Larus thayeri
    Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
    Heuglin's Gull, Larus heuglini
    American Herring Gull, Larus smithsonianus
    Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis
The Black-headed Gull is a smaller species.
The Black-headed Gull is a smaller species.
  • Caspian Gull, Larus cachinnans
    East Siberian Herring Gull, Larus vegae
    Armenian Gull, Larus armenicus
    Slaty-backed Gull, Larus schistisagus
    Lesser Black-backed Gull, Larus fuscus
    Great Black-headed Gull, Larus ichthyaetus
    Brown-headed Gull, Larus brunnicephalus
    Grey-headed Gull, Larus cirrocephalus
    Hartlaub's Gull, Larus hartlaubii
    Silver Gull, Larus novaehollandiae
    Red-billed Gull, Larus scopulinus
    Black-billed Gull, Larus bulleri
    Brown-hooded Gull, Larus maculipennis
    Black-headed Gull, Larus ridibundus
    Slender-billed Gull, Larus genei
    Bonaparte's Gull, Larus philadelphia
    Saunders' Gull, Larus saundersi
    Andean Gull, Larus serranus
    Mediterranean Gull, Larus melanocephalus
    Relict Gull, Larus relictus
    Lava Gull, Larus fuliginosus
    Laughing Gull, Larus atricilla
    Franklin's Gull, Larus pipixcan
    Little Gull, Larus minutus
The Swallow-tailed Gull, endemic inhabitant of the Galápagos Islands.
  • Genus Rissa
  • Kittiwake or Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla
    Red-legged Kittiwake, Rissa brevirostris
  • Genus Pagophila
  • Ivory Gull, Pagophila eburnea
  • Genus Rhodostethia
  • Ross's Gull, Rhodostethia rosea
  • Genus Xema
  • Sabine's Gull, Xema sabini
  • Genus Creagrus
  • Swallow-tailed Gull, Creagrus furcatus



  • Olsen, Klaus Malling & Larsson, Hans (1995): Terns of Europe and North America. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7136-4056-1

External links

  • Rudy's Gull-index: Pictures of several less well-known plumages of large gulls plus many links.
  • The Norwegian Gull Page: Huge picture archive including all NW European species, as well as features from the Nearctic and SE Europe.
  • Bird pictures - Gulls: Pictures and descriptions of large gulls from The Netherlands, France, Spain and Poland.
  • Bird Hybrids Database: Search for specific laridae hybrids by entering gull species name in query box. Click on hybrid for references.
  • Gull videos on the Internet Bird Collection

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| Shearwaters
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| Terns

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