Common Gull

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For the butterfly also called Common Gull, see Cepora nerissa.
Common Gull
Adult Mew Gull. Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae
Genus: Larus
Species: L. canus
Binomial name
Larus canus
Linnaeus, 1758

The Common Gull (European and Asian subspecies; see below) or Mew Gull (North American subspecies) Larus canus is a medium-sized gull which breeds in northern Asia, northern Europe and northwestern North America. It migrates further south in winter.[2] Its name does not indicate that it is an abundant species, but that during the winter it feeds on common land, short pasture used for grazing.[3]


Adult Common Gulls are 40–46 cm long, noticeably smaller than the Herring Gull, and slightly smaller than the Ring-billed Gull, also differing from the latter in its shorter, more tapered bill with a more greenish shade of yellow, as well as being unmarked during the breeding season. The body is grey above and white below. The legs are greenish-yellow. In winter, the head is streaked grey, and the bill often has a poorly defined blackish band near the tip (sometimes sufficiently obvious to cause confusion with Ring-billed Gull). They have black wingtips with large white "mirrors". Young birds have scaly black-brown upperparts and a neat wing pattern, and grey legs. They take two to three years to reach maturity. The call is a high-pitched "laughing" cry.[2][4]


There are four subspecies, two of them considered distinct species by some authorities:[2][5]

  • Larus canus canus Linnaeus, 1758 – Common Gull. Europe and western Asia. Small; mantle medium grey (palest subspecies); wingtips with extensive black; iris dark. Wingspan 110–125 cm; mass 290–480 g.
  • Larus canus heinei Homeyer, 1853 – Russian Common Gull . Central northern Asia. Medium size; mantle dark grey (darkest subspecies); wingtips with extensive black; iris dark. Mass 315–550 g.
  • Larus canus kamtschatschensis (Bonaparte, 1857); syn. L. kamtschatschensisKamchatka Gull. Northeastern Asia. Large; mantle medium-dark grey; wingtips with extensive black; iris pale. Mass 394–586 g.
  • Larus canus brachyrhynchus Richardson, 1831; syn. L. brachyrhynchusMew Gull or Short-billed Gull. Alaska and western Canada. Small; mantle medium-dark grey; wingtips with little black and much white; iris pale. Wingspan 96–102 cm; mass 320–550 g.


Winter plumage

Both Common and Mew Gulls breed colonially near water or in marshes, making a lined nest on the ground or in a small tree; colony size varies from 2 to 320 or even more pairs. Usually three eggs are laid (sometimes just one or two); they hatch after 24–26 days, with the chicks fledging after a further 30–35 days. Like most gulls, they are omnivores and will scavenge as well as hunt small prey. The global population is estimated to be about one million pairs; they are most numerous in Europe, with over half (possibly as much as 80-90%) of the world population.[6] By contrast, the Alaskan population is only about 10,000 pairs.[2]


The Common Gull occurs as a scarce winter visitor to coastal eastern Canada and as a vagrant to the northeastern USA,[7] and there is one recent record of Mew Gull in Europe on the Azores.[8]


The scientific name Larus canus simply translates from Latin as grey or hoary gull.[9] The name Common Gull was coined by Thomas Pennant in 1768 because he considered it the most numerous of its genus.[10] John Ray earlier used the name Common Sea-Mall.[10] It is something of a cliche that Uncommon Gull is a more accurate description. There are many old British regional names for this species with variations on maa, mar and mew.[11]

Larus Canus Fishing Sequence
Larus Canus Fishing Sequence


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Larus canus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d del Hoyo, J., et al., eds. (1998). Handbook of the Birds of the World 3: 621. Lynx Edicions ISBN 84-87334-20-2.
  3. ^ Okill, Dave (2004) English names for Western Palearctic birds British Birds 97(7): 348-9
  4. ^ Snow, D. W. & Perrins, C. M. (1998). The Birds of the Western Palearctic Concise Edition. OUP ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
  5. ^ Olsen, K. M., & Larsson, H. (2004). Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Helm ISBN 0-7136-7087-8.
  6. ^ Hagemeijer, W. J. M., & Blair, M. J., eds. (1997). The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds. Poyser, London ISBN 0-85661-091-7.
  7. ^ Sibley, D. (2000). The Sibley Guide to Birds. ISBN 0-679-45122-6.
  8. ^ Alfrey, P., & Ahmad, M. (2007). Short-billed Gull on Terceira, Azores, in February–March 2003 and identification of the 'Mew Gull complex'. Dutch Birding 29 (4): 201-212.
  9. ^ Jobling, James A (1991). A Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. OUP. ISBN 0-19-854634-3. 
  10. ^ a b Lockwood, W B (1993). The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names. OUP. ISBN 978-0-19-866196-2. 
  11. ^ Jackson, Christine E. (1968). British Names of Birds. Witherby. 

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