Common gull

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"Mew gull" redirects here. For the aircraft, see Percival Mew Gull.
For the common gull butterfly, see Cepora nerissa.
Common gull
Larus canus1.jpg
Adult mew gull. Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.
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, 1758common 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, 1853Russian 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
Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden

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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