Great Black-backed Gull

Larus marinus

64-78cm

Appearance

This is the biggest gull of the region. When compared to the Lesser Black-backed Gull, its head and bill are larger, the neck wider, and the wings broader. The upperwings and back are charcoal black, legs are fleshy in colour, yellow bill has an orange spot on the end, and the wings have a thick white trailing edge. Plumage is white everywhere else. In winter birds gain grey streaks on the head and neck. Juveniles are mottled grey-brown with streaking, and their backs have a scaly effect. The bill is dark, legs are dull pink, and the breast and head are lighter than the rest of the underparts. Adult plumage is gained after 4-5 years of moulting.

Habitat

Rocky coasts and islands are preferred breeding territories, but may also go to freshwater lakes or moorland. Sandy coastal areas, including estuaries, are visited when not breeding, and garbage dumps are used for scavenging.

Character

Appears strong and powerful in flight, and will steal food from other species. Small groups come together when not breeding, but otherwise these birds are usually alone or in pairs.

Food

Hunts young seabirds such as Puffins and Kittiwakes, steals food from other birds, and will kill fish and small mammals like rabbits. Eats carrion and may scavenge road kill.

Breeding

Female lays 2 or 3 eggs which both adults incubate for 27 days. Hatchlings quickly wander from nest but remain nearby. They can fly at approximately 50-56 days old and are independent shortly afterwards.

Population

Both a resident and a migrant bird of the region; some birds stay near their breeding grounds, while others arrive in the region from further north. More than 17 000 pairs are in the UK and 2200 in Ireland, and the wintering population exceeds 77 000.

Observation Tips

Birds are solitary in their pairs when nesting, so only a few may be visible on cliffs during spring. During winter the Great Black-backed Gull may be found amidst groups of other gulls, and it is usually the gull with the smallest numbers.

Voice

Has a low, guttural 'kaa-ga-ga' call.
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