There’s No Such Thing As Seagulls

Seagulls are a common site in the UK, especially along coastlines and in coastal towns. However, it came as a surprise to learn that there is actually no such thing as the seagull. There are roughly fifty types of gull around the world, six that commonly breed in the UK and none of them called a ‘seagull’.

Gulls are known to be very intelligent creatures. They are quick learners, and display behaviours such as stamping their feet on the ground to imitate rainfall to lure out worms. They can be seen dropping molluscs onto rock to break them open and following ploughs in fields to feast on upturned grubs and insects.

Unlike most creatures they can drink both salt and fresh water as they have a special pair of glands above their eyes which flushes the salt from their systems through openings in the bill. They have a small claw roughly halfway up their lower leg that helps them roost or sit on high ledges without being blown off.

Gulls are often portrayed as vicious, and have been known to attack people for food. However, they make attentive parents. Seagulls mate for life, taking turns to incubate their eggs and feed and protect the chicks. The young gulls form what are known as nursery flocks where they play and learn the skills needed for adulthood. These flocks will remain together until they are old enough to breed, under the watchful eyes of some of the adult males.

Below are the six main types of gulls found in the UK.

The most common type of gull is the herring gull (Larus Argentatus), the type of gull most people think of when they think of ‘seagulls’. Despite being the most common, its conservation status is actually red (red being in danger, amber being in a state to be concerned by, and green meaning the population is stable) due to their declining numbers.

The Herring Gull: Andreas Eichler [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

The lesser black-backed gull (Larus Fuscus) is very similar to the herring gull, but there are some key differences. Instead of the pink legs of the herring gull, they have bright yellow legs. The grey on their back isn’t as extensive, but darker, and they are generally smaller in size than the herring. This gull is an omnivore, mostly scavenging whatever it can find. Its conservation status is amber.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: dfaulder [CC BY 2.0 (]

The next is the greater black-backed gull (Larus Marinus), and is the largest of the gulls. With pink legs more like the herring, its large, square shaped head makes it eyes seem small and beady. An omnivore, they commonly eat shellfish, birds and carrion. Their conservation status is amber.

Great Black-backed Gull: nottsexminer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

By nottsexminer – Great Black-backed GullUploaded by Fæ, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The common gull (Larus Canus) is a smaller, almost more cutesy version of the herring gull. It’s bill is much smaller than that of the gulls above. It generally eats Worms, insects, fish, carrion and rubbish. It has a conservation status of amber.

Common Gull: User Thermos on fi.wikipedia [CC BY 2.5 (]

The black headed gull (Chroicocephalus Ridibundus) has a misleading name as its head is actually a very dark brown, and only in the summer. In the winter it sports a white head with a dark tip on its bill. It eats worms, insects, fish and carrion. It has a conservation status of amber.

Brown Headed Gull: Dr S. Natarajan, Aditya Jyot eye hospital, Mumbai [Public domain]


Finally there is the Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla ). This gull is rarely found away from the coastlines and has black tinged wings and black legs. They eat Fish, shrimps and worms, and like the herring also have a conservation status of red.

Kittiwake Gull: By Kognos – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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Jessica Howard

Jessica Howard

31 years old, currently living and working in London, UK.

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