What do Herring gulls eat? where do Herring gulls live? How many Herring gulls are there? How long do herring gulls live? All this and much more in this Herring gull fact-file.
Herring gulls are one of the larger species of gull in the UK with a wingspan of upto 160cm and growing to around 1.4 kilos in weight. Although they are mainly found in coastal areas, they can also be seen inland around towns and cities, near rubbish tips, across farmland and various other waterbodies. They are a very noisy species and make a variety of squawks and screeches but it is their long call that is most recognisable.
Adult gulls have light grey backs, white underparts and black tips to their wings with small white blotches. They have faded pink legs with webbed feed and their beak is slightly hooked, yellow in with a red spot. Young herring gulls are difficult to separate from other species but are a similar size to the adults and covered in varying amounts of speckled brown feathers depending on their age and the season. There are obvious physical differences between the males and females although the males are slightly larger on average.
Just like most other gulls, Herring gulls are opportunist feeders and will eat almost anything they can fit down their throat. This includes scraps, carrion, seeds, fruits, eggs, insects, fish and shellfish , but they will also take live birds and small mammals if they can catch and overpower them. They will also try to mimic the sound of rain by repeatedly tapping their feet on the grass. This tricks worms and other invertebrates to the surface where they make easy pickings.
The herring gulls nesting season begins in May when both adults begin to construct a large cups shaped nest out of vegetation, moss, mud and in urban areas often litter. Naturally these nests would be on cliff edges and islands but most herring gull colonies in the UK are in towns and cities where the gulls take advantage of our flat roofed buildings and the safety they provide from terrestrial predators. These nests will often be built close to other nesting gulls including those of other species such as the similar looking lesser black backed gull. Each pair will lay an average of 3 speckled olive brown eggs that measure around 7cm long. The pair share the incubation duties and guard the nest site heavily, if there is any perceived threat all the nesting gulls will take to the air together swooping at and trying to poo on whatever they see as danger. After 31 days the eggs hatch and the young, fluffy grey chicks hatch out. At first they stay very close to their nest but soon they begin to wonder around the nesting site, continuously begging for food from their parents. Over the next 45 to fifty days the young herring gulls grow fast and soon begin to stretch their wings and attempt their first flights. This doesn’t always end up too well and young gulls often end up on the ground away from their nests but always under the watchful eyes of one or more parent. Once flight has been perfected, or at least achieved the young gulls follow their parents for a four to six weeks more before they become fully independent. By this time they are covered in mottled brown feathers which change bit by bit for the next four years until they get their adult plumage and become sexually mature.
There are currently an estimated 740,000 herring gulls in the UK but they have suffered a decline of 60% in the last few decades and their numbers continue to fall. This has resulted in a recent tightening of the restrictions on culling this species and hopefully their numbers will soon stabilise. Herring gulls can be quite long lived with an average lifespan of 12 years and one individual reached a whopping 49 years of age!
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