Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)


French: Goéland argenté German: Silbermöwe Spanish: Gaviota argéntea europea
Other common names: Herring Gull (when lumped with L. armenicus, L. michahellis, L. cachinnans and L. smithsonianus)

Larus Argentatus


, 1763,



Taxonomy of present species and its close relatives represent one of the most complex challenges in systematic ornithology. The closely related taxa were often treated as a ring of subtle races until the two extremes (L. argentatus, L. fuscus) met in W Europe and did not freely interbreed. Many forms are now treated as separate species, since it is uncertain how to apply the biological or indeed phylogenetic species concept to the complex pattern of variation and interbreeding. Present species is reported as hybridizing extensively with L. hyperboreus in Iceland (disputed, but analysis of mitochondrial and microsatellite data strongly indicate recent hybridization there#R), but rarely with L. fuscus in Europe. Even after several decades of molecular study, uncertainty over the species boundaries of L. argentatus, L. cachinnans and L. fuscus prevails, with many of the identifiable races assigned at one time or another to two or even three of these species. The most extreme lumping has included L. glaucoides, L. fuscus and even L. californicus within L. argentatus; a more traditional treatment included L. armenicus, L. michahellis and L. cachinnans. Owing to sympatry without hybridization in W France, L. michahellis is now seen as a distinct species, further supported by molecular evidence and relatively strong morphological characters#R. Much controversy surrounds the form omissus of the N Baltic region, with pink-legged individuals in a (formerly) predominantly yellow-legged population: it has been treated as a race either of L. argentatus or of L. cachinnans, but is probably simply a morph of L. argentatus (based mainly on voice and primary pattern). Recent trend to separate out smithsonianus as a full species accepted here. See also L. fuscus, L. armenicus, L. cachinnans, L. smithsonianus. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • L. a. argenteus C. L. Brehm & Schilling, 1822 – Iceland, Faeroes, British Is and W France to W Germany; winters S to N Iberia.
  • L. a. argentatus Pontoppidan, 1763 – Denmark and Fennoscandia to E Kola Peninsula; winters mostly in N & W Europe.
  • Descriptive notes

    55–67 cm; 717–1525 g (nominate), 600–1150 g (argenteus); wingspan 125–155 cm. Four-year gull. A large gull, rther square-headed and with... read more


    Frequently heard; commonest call is a “ki-auww”, often uttered in combination with a deeper,... read more


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

    Food and feeding

    Omnivorous and highly opportunistic, exploiting superabundant food when available, even tiny prey like flying ants or mass-spawning... read more


    Lays from early May to early June (rarely late April) in NW Europe, sometimes late March in southernmost part of range; early May in... read more


    Sedentary or short-distance migrant, with first-year birds typically dispersing furthest. Northern... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). This remains one of the most abundant coastal birds in northern and northwestern Europe but significant recent declines, particularly... read more

    Recommended citation

    Burger, J., Gochfeld, M., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). 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 1 April 2020).