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What Is a Herring Gull?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
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The herring gull is frequently described as the most common gull species in the world. They have a range that includes much of the coastal area in North America, Europe and Asia. In terms of appearance, the herring gull has gray wings with black tips, a white head and body, pink legs and a yellow bill with reddish spots on the lower section. There is some debate about whether or not the herring gull is a single species or several different species, partly because of small differences in various populations throughout the world.

In terms of habitat, the herring gull can survive in many different kinds of areas. They frequently live in coastal areas, but they are also comfortable living near many inland bodies of water. Additionally, it’s not unusual for them to gather near convenient food sources like garbage dumps and outdoor areas where people frequently gather and leave food behind.

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Herring gulls are also generally adaptable in terms of diet. What they eat often changes depending on what’s available, and this can shift based on their location as well as the time of year. They hunt fish and various marine invertebrates as a primary source of food. When the opportunity arises, they’ll eat many other things as well, including carrion, garbage, different bird species and bird eggs. Some have even adapted to eating handouts from humans on populated beaches, although the practice of feeding them is generally discouraged because it can result in undesirable behavior from the birds.

The gulls normally start breeding when they reach the age of 5 years. When nesting, herring gulls tend to gather in large groups. Males and females form pair bonds, and both help in building the nest, which they dig into the ground and cover with soft debris like feathers and plant matter. They usually lay a clutch of three eggs, and both parents help incubate them for about 30 days. The young begin flying after approximately 40 days, but the parents continue feeding them for several more weeks before they become fully independent.

Overall, the herring gull population is quite strong worldwide, and most experts don’t consider them to be in any real danger. Many scientists believe that their ability to adapt to varying environments and food sources is one of the reasons for the species' success and strong population. Other reasons likely include changes to commercial fishing and increased human population, which has made more food available for the birds.

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