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Birds Guide


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Herring Gull
Herring Gull
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae
Genus: Larus
Linnaeus, 1758
Many, see list

Larus is a large genus of seabirds to which most gulls belong. It has a world-wide distribution, and many of its species are abundant and well-known birds in their ranges.

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.

The taxonomy of the large gulls in the Herring and Lesser Black-backed complex is very complicated, different authorities recognising between two and eight species.

List of species in taxonomic order

  • 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
    Caspian Gull, Larus cachinnans
    East Siberian Herring Gull, Larus vegae
  • A Silver Gull at the pier of Sale, Australia
    A Silver Gull at the pier of Sale, Australia
    A Herring Gull (front) and a Lesser Black-backed Gull (behind) in Poland: two species with clear differences.
    A Herring Gull (front) and a Lesser Black-backed Gull (behind) in Poland: two species with clear differences.
  • 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

Ring species

The Larus gulls interbreed in a ring around the arctic
The Larus gulls interbreed in a ring around the arctic

A classic example of ring species is the Larus gulls circumpolar species ring. The range of these gulls forms a ring around the North Pole. The Herring gull, which lives primarily in Great Britain, can breed with the American Herring gull (living in North America), which can also breed with the Vega Herring gull, which can breed with Birula's gull, which can breed with Heuglin's gull, which can breed with the Siberian lesser black-backed gull (all four of these live across the top of Siberia), which can breed with the Lesser Black-backed Gull back in Northern Europe, including Great Britain. However, the Lesser Black-backed gull and Herring gull are sufficiently different that they cannot interbreed; thus the group of gulls forms a ring species. A recent genetic study has shown that this example is far more complicated than presented here. For more information about this, see "The herring gull complex is not a ring species", D Liebers, P de Knijff, AJ Helbig, Biological Sciences, 2004 Volume 271.


  • Harrison, Peter (1988): Seabirds (2nd ed.). Christopher Helm, London ISBN 0-7470-1410-8

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