|Adult Common gull in Norway|
The common gull or sea mew (Larus canus) is a medium-sized gull that breeds in the Palearctic, northern Europe. The closely related short-billed gull is sometimes included in this species, which may be known collectively as "mew gull". Many common gulls migrate further south in winter. There are differing accounts as to how the species acquired its vernacular name (see Etymology section below).
Adult common gulls are 40–46 cm (16–18 in) long, noticeably smaller than the herring gull and slightly smaller than the ring-billed gull. It is further distinguished from the ring-billed gull by its shorter, more tapered bill, which is a more greenish shade of yellow and is unmarked during the breeding season. The body is grey above and white below. The legs are yellow in breeding season, becoming duller in the winter. In winter, the head is streaked grey and the bill often has a poorly defined blackish band near the tip, which is sometimes sufficiently obvious to cause confusion with ring-billed gull. They have black wingtips with large white "mirrors" on the outer primaries p9 and p10, which are smaller than those in the short-billed gull. Young birds have scaly black-brown upperparts and a neat wing pattern, and pink legs which become greyish in the second year before tuning yellow. By the first winter, the head and belly are white, with fine streaks and greyish feathers grow on the saddle. They three years (up to four in the Kamchatka subspecies) to reach maturity. The call is a high-pitched "laughing" cry.
- L. c. canus – Linnaeus, 1758 – common gull. nominate, found in Europe and western Asia. Small; mantle medium grey (palest subspecies); wingtips with extensive black; iris dark. First-year birds develop white feathers on the head and belly with fine dark markings. Wingspan 110–125 cm (43–49 in); mass 290–480 g (10–17 oz).
- L. c. heinei – Homeyer, 1853 – Russian common gull. Found in central northern Asia. Larger than canus with a more sloping forehead which gives the appearance of a smaller bill. Eyes are usually paler, bill and legs deeper yellow than canus with weaker dark bill markings in winter. The wings are proportionally longer with more black on p5-p8 than canus with narrow white spots forming a conspicuous "string of pearls". p4 has black markings which are rare in canus. First-year immatures have a whiter head, belly and underwings than canus at the same age, with an unmarked rump and more defined black tail band. Intergrades are common in west Russia. Mass 315–550 g (11.1–19.4 oz).
- L. c. kamtschatschensis – Bonaparte, 1857; syn. L. kamtschatschensis – Kamchatka gull. Found in northeastern Asia. The largest subspecies, its size is intermediate between common and ring-billed gulls with the largest males approaching the size of Black-tailed gull. Head is squarer with a flatter forehead and the bill is thicker and longer than canus, with paler eyes and deeper yellow bill and legs. Mantle medium-dark grey; wingtips with extensive black, with markings on p5-p8 forming a "string of pearls". Plumage development is generally slower than canus; first-year immatures retain juvenile feathers through the winter, appearing darker and browner overall, and the tail has more extensive black. Brown covert wing feathers are still retained in the second winter. Mass 394–586 g (13.9–20.7 oz).
Most authorities outside North America recognize the North American population as a distinct species, Larus brachyrnynchus. In 2021, the American Ornithological Society accepted the split based on differences in genetics, morphology and vocalizations. Though 'mew gull' has been used as name for the species in North America, the name short-billed gull was chosen due to the usage of "mew gull" in recent literature to denote all forms of L. canus and the fact that short-billed gull was previously used in older AOC checklists since 1886.
Both common and short-billed 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. By contrast, the short-billed gull population in Alaska is only about 10,000 pairs.
The common gull occurs as a scarce winter visitor to coastal eastern Canada and as a vagrant to the northeastern USA. The Kamchatka gull is occasionally seen in northwestern North America mainly in spring, and there is one autumn record in Newfoundland.
The scientific name is from Latin. Larus appears to have referred to a gull or other large seabird, and canus is "grey". The name "common gull" was coined by Thomas Pennant in 1768 because he considered it the most numerous of its genus. Others assert that the name does not indicate its abundance, but that during the winter it feeds on common land, short pasture used for grazing. John Ray earlier used the name common sea-mall. It is said that uncommon gull is a more accurate description.
There are many old British regional names for this species, typically variations on maa, mar, and mew. The original English word mew is related to German möwe and Dutch meeuw. In Norse influenced regions of Britain variations include maw or sea-maw, the old Norfolk form being mow. The word Gull came from the Welsh, the first recorded usage dates from the 1400s, the modern Welsh form is gwylan.
- BirdLife International. 2019. Larus canus (amended version of 2018 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T22694308A155576460. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22694308A155576460.en. Downloaded on 13 April 2021.
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- del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J., eds. (1998). Handbook of the Birds of the World. 3. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. p. 621. ISBN 84-87334-20-2.
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- Snow, D.W.; Perrins, C.M. (1998). The Birds of the Western Palearctic (Concise ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
- Olsen, K.M.; Larsson, H. (2004). Gulls of Europe, Asia, and North America. Helm. ISBN 0-7136-7087-8.
- Rasmussen, Pamela C. (10 November 2020). "Split Mew Gull Larus canus brachyrhynchus and rename as Short-billed Gull". AOS Classification Committee – North and Middle America. Proposal Set 2021-A: 187–188.
- Hagemeijer, W.J.M.; Blair, M.J., eds. (1997). The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds. London: Poyser. ISBN 0-85661-091-7.
- Sibley, David Allen (2000). The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Knopf. p. 483. ISBN 0-679-45122-6.
- Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 89, 219. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
- Lockwood, W.B. (1993). The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866196-2.
- Okill, Dave (2004). "English names for Western Palearctic birds". British Birds. 97 (7): 348–349.
- Jackson, Christine E. (1968). British Names of Birds. Witherby. ISBN 978-0854930043.
- Trudgill, P.; Trudgill, J. (2016). Dialect Matters: Respecting Vernacular Language. Dialect Matters. Respecting Vernacular Language (in German). Cambridge University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-1-107-13047-0. Retrieved 2021-04-14.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Larus canus.|
- BirdLife species factsheet for Larus canus
- "Larus canus". Avibase.
- "Mew Gull media". Internet Bird Collection.
- Mew Gull photo gallery at VIREO (Drexel University)
- Interactive range map of Larus canus at IUCN Red List maps
- Audio recordings of Mew gull on Xeno-canto.
- Larus canus in Field Guide: Birds of the World on Flickr
- Common gull media from ARKive