Wild South Florida — Naturally Wild
 
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Herring Gull
herring gull
Immature herring gull, photographed at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, in February 2016.
herring gull
 

The herring gull, Larus argentatus, is a bird of many looks. It takes four years for one of these birds to go from hatchling to adult, and each year the plumes change a bit from the mottled browns of a yearling to the grays and whites sported by a fully mature bird.

But there is one thing that is same no matter the age: pink legs and feet. See them on a gull, and there is a pretty good chance you're looking at this bird.

Herring gulls are winter visitors to Florida. In summer, they can be found nesting in the far north, from Alaska, through Canada's northern territories, into the provinces, the Great Lakes and parts of New England. When winter's chill blows, they'll retreat to the coast, to parts of the Caribbean and even into the Mississippi Valley and the interior United States.

They are mostly migratory, but there are year-round populations in some areas, particularly the Great Lakes, southern Alaska and New England. Older birds in these areas tend to stay put through winter, while younger birds are more likely to migrate. Their abundant numbers and wide distribution make them one of the most familiar of all gulls. They can be found along beaches, inland lakes and rivers, mudflats, farm fields, parking lots and garbage dumps. They will roost with other gulls in open areas where predators can be quickly spotted.

Herring gulls are large birds, approaching two feet in length, with a wingspan of nearly five feet. Fully mature adults are white in the head and neck, gray below, with a black tail, bright yellow bill with a red spot at the tip. And pink legs and feet, of course.

 
 
herring gull
 

Herring gulls breed in forests, near lakes; they'll often form colonies on isolated islands and other places that offer safety from land predators. They are ground nesters, hollowing out a depression that's a foot across, more or less, and about a half a foot deep, in soft soil or sand and usually near some natural structure — a rock, for example — that will offer a little protection and concealment. Females have one brood a year, with one to three eggs per clutch. Incubation takes about a month, and both parents share sitting duties. Offspring are able to move about the nest area in a day or two but remain within that area for as long as 50 days. Both parents feed their offspring by regurgitation. Yum! Mom and dad will to continue to feed them for as long as a month afterwards. A herring gull pair remains together for life.

Herring gulls forage by soaring over shorelines looking for fish or scraps. Near the surface, they'll dive to grab prey. They'll patrol tidal flats looking for invertebrates, grabbing shellfish, like crabs, and drop them onto rocks to break them open. They'll congregate around fishing boats and garbage dumps, follow whales and dolphins, scooping up fish driven to the surface.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature rates herring gulls as "least concern," which means it's presently in no danger of extinction. However, their numbers have been declining for years, and overfishing, pollution and pesticides are threats. Herring gulls are members of Laridae, the gull family.

Photographs by David Sedore

 
     
     
 
Links for Herring Gull Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology National Audubon Society National Geographic Society
 
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