Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Arctic Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)


French: Goéland hudsonien German: Kanadamöwe Spanish: Gaviota argéntea americana
Other common names: Smithsonian Gull (smithsonianus)

Larus Smithsonianus


, 1862,

eastern and western coasts of North America


Taxonomy of present species and its close relatives represents one of the most complex challenges in systematic ornithology (see further comments under L. argentatus). Molecular work places present form at a distance from other taxa in the complex#R#R#R, and current trend to accept this arrangement#R followed here pending further investigations. Morphologically, however, it is so little divergent that adults are “near-indistinguishable” from argentatus#R; moreover, acceptance of the split comes with caveat that “splits or lumps based solely on mtDNA cannot be regarded as robust”#R. Nevertheless, races mongolicus and vegae have been treated as one or two separate species by some authors#R#R. Bluish-legged birds of Russian Arctic islands included in vegae, but sometimes separated as birulai. See also L. fuscus, L. argentatus, L. armenicus, L. cachinnans. Hybridizes with L. glaucescens in Alaska. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • L. s. mongolicus Sushkin, 1925 – Mongolian Herring Gull – SE Altai and L Baikal to Mongolia, NE China and Korea; winters mostly in S Asia.
  • L. s. vegae Palmén, 1887 – Vega Herring Gull – NE Siberia; winters S to Japan, Korea and SE China.
  • L. s. smithsonianus Coues, 1862 – American Herring Gull – North America from Aleutians and S coast of Alaska inland across Canada to Newfoundland, and S in E USA to North Carolina; winters S to Central America.
  • Descriptive notes

    53–65 cm (nominate), 56–68 cm (mongolicus), 55–67 cm (vegae); male 1150–1580 g, female 850–1100 g (mongolicus), male... read more


    Vocalizations of nominate very similar to those of L. argentatus, but considered to be... read more


    Mainly coastal and near-coastal areas; also inland, at large lakes and reservoirs, on fields and at... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet includes marine invertebrates, fish, insects, refuse, and other seabirds; sometimes gorges on berries, even bayberry (Myrica... read more


    Lays early May to late Jun (rarely late Apr) in NE USA; late Jun to late Jul in Northwest Territories (Canada). Single-brooded, although... read more


    N birds are migratory, and may leapfrog over S breeders. Dispersal commences late Jul, but in... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). One of the most abundant coastal birds in North America (nominate), but is declining there. Population c. 150,000 pairs in E North... read more

    Recommended citation

    del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Arctic Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 7 April 2020).