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20 Types of Seagulls, Species, Identification and Photos

Despite sharing a common name, each of the different types of seagulls has evolved adaptations that reflect the diversity of their various habitats. This exploration also reveals lesser-known behaviors, diets, and facts about these seabirds. 

Join us as we fly into the world of seagulls, one feather at a time.

Seagull Classification

Seagulls, often called "gulls," are members of the Laridae family and the suborder Lari. This family includes approximately 100 species in 22 genera, including gulls, terns, noddies, and skimmers. 

According to the World Bird List, seagulls have 53 species segmented into ten genera3. Previously, most gulls were classified under the genus Larus. However, a phylogenetic study reclassified several genera, including Ichthyaetus, Chroicocephalus, Leucophaeus, and Hydrocoloeus

Larus is the most widespread, with 25 species predominantly dwelling in the Northern Hemisphere. The Ichthyaetus genus has six species, while Leucophaeus—native to the New World—has five. Chroicocephalus has 11 species. Rissa, or the kittiwakes, encompasses two.

Lastly, Hydrocoloeus, Rhodostethia, Pagophila, Pagophila, and Pagophila are monotypic, indicating they have only a single species. 

The following sections will provide insights into some species' key features, behaviors, and habitats within each genus.

Read more: Seagull Facts & learn about the many other types of Birds.

20 Types of Seagulls

1. Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Herring Gull
Photo by Wolfgang Wendefeuer on Pexels.

The Herring Gull is a large bird with a pale gray back and wings, white underparts, and a yellow bill with a red spot. They live in coastal areas, inland water bodies, and urban centers. 

Additionally, they feed on fish, invertebrates, small mammals, birds, eggs, and human refuse. Ignoring most bird-scaring methods, Herring Gulls are clearly highly adaptable and intelligent. 

Breeding season starts in April, and both parents participate in incubation and chick care.

2. Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)

Great Black-backed Gull
Photo by Andreas Trepte on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 (Cropped from original).

Great Black-backed Gulls live along the North Atlantic coastline, western coasts of Europe, and Iceland. They have a wingspan of up to 67 inches, dark black wings and back, white underparts, pinkish legs, and yellow eyes with a red spot on the lower part of the beak.

Its smaller relative, Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus), weighs half as much and has yellow legs.

These gulls can live on coastlines, islands, cliffs, lakes, and rivers. They eat fish, invertebrates, birds, eggs, carrion, and human waste. Moreover, they are assertive birds whose loud and deep calls echo across their territories.

3. Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)

Yellow-legged Gull
Photo by Stein Arne Jensen on Flickr (Public Domain).

The Yellow-legged Gull inhabits regions spanning Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Its iconic yellow legs, a striking contrast to its gray back, distinguish it from similar species, such as the herring gull. 

Notably, adults of this species boast a red spot on their bill, framed by an equally vibrant ring around their eyes. Their dietary habits are flexible, and they adopt an opportunistic approach toward foraging and show a preference for a variety of food sources.

4. Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)

Glaucous Gull
Photo by AWeith on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Glaucous Gull, the second-largest gull species, lives in the Arctic. Its adult plumage is pale gray, lacking any black coloration. Its distinct traits include a thick, yellow bill in adults, while juveniles possess a pale gray hue with a pink and black bill.

It is a bold hunter, often diving into icy waters or raiding other birds' nests for eggs and chicks. During the breeding season, the Glaucous Gull takes on a different behavior. They form pairs and are responsible for raising their chicks. The male and female take turns incubating eggs and feeding juvenile gulls in nests made from grass, seaweed, and feathers.

5. Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

Iceland Gull
Photo by Seabamirum on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Iceland Gull inhabits the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Iceland. Its pure white plumage sharply contrasts the stark Arctic backdrop. As winter approaches, these gulls migrate south to the northeastern parts of North America and Western Europe.

Regarding diet, the Iceland gull eats fish and invertebrates and exhibits kleptoparasitic tendencies. It also has a softer and more musical call than other large gulls. 

6. Common Gull (Larus canus)

common gull
Photo by Alexis Lours on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Common gull, often called the sea mew, is notable for its wide dispersal across the Northern Hemisphere. Its range includes coastal ranges, tidal estuaries, inland lakes, and marshy grasslands.

Physically, Common Gulls have slender, yellowish-green legs and webbed feet. Their gray wings and back are contrasted by a plain white head and a greenish-yellow bill. 

Their fledglings present brown plumage spotted tan, complemented by a dark beak tinged with pink. Like other gulls, they are opportunistic omnivores, scavenging or hunting small prey as needed.

7. California Gull (Larus californicus)

california gull
Photo by King of Hearts on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The California Gull inhabits the western regions of North America and is the state bird of Utah. It has a clean white head and underparts, light gray wings, and a back with black wingtips and white spots. Its yellow bill has a black band near the tip and a red spot on the lower part. 

During the breeding season, its legs and feet turn greenish-yellow. They nest in colonies, and pairs establish their nests near one another.

Moreover, the California Gull feeds on insects, fish, eggs, and small mammals. It also scavenges trail plows in fields.

8. Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)

Western Gull
Photo by Rhododendrites on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Western Gull commonly lives on the western coastlines of North America. It has a white body, slate-gray wings, a sizable frame, and an impressive wingspan. Its yellow bill has a red spot. 

Regarding diet, these birds eat fish, squid, invertebrates, and even human food waste. They are also opportunistic scavengers known for stealing food from other birds. 

They form monogamous pairs and build nests in their breeding colonies using grass, seaweed, and other plant material. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the chicks.

9. Yellow-footed Gull (Larus livens)

Yellow-footed Gull
Photo by Laura Gaudette on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Yellow-footed Gull only inhabits the Gulf of California. It has lemon-yellow legs and feet, a white body, and slate-gray wings. It is an opportunistic feeder, consuming fish, invertebrates, eggs, and carrion. 

The breeding season starts in April. Yellow-footed gulls usually lay 2 to 3 eggs per clutch and prefer to nest on the ground. Moreover, They can live up to 15 years in the wild.

10. Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)

Laughing Gull
Photo by Ianaré Sévi on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Laughing Gull, aptly named for its laughter-like call, breeds along the Atlantic coast of North America, parts of the Caribbean, and northern parts of South America. During colder months, it migrates south and has been sporadically spotted in western Europe.

In summer, adults flaunt a white body, with a dark gray back and wings topped by a black head. The gull's wings are darker gray than similar-sized species and offset by black tips. It's long, and the red beak adds a touch of color. During winter, its signature black hood lightens.

Feeding as an opportunistic omnivore and scavenger, it shows tremendous adaptability. 

11. Franklin's Gull (Leucophaeus pipixcan)

Franklin's Gull
Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Franklin's Gull is a migratory bird traveling throughout North America yearly. The Franklin's Gull was named after Sir John Franklin, a British Royal Navy officer and Arctic explorer.

It has a black hood, white underparts, and a gray back. However, its chest gains a rosy-red breeding plumage.

It can live in various habitats, although it prefers marshy areas. Moreover, the bird builds nests on the ground or the water. Its diet ranges from insects and small fish to crustaceans, often foraging in large flocks. 

12. Slender-billed Gull (Chroicocephalus genei)

Slender-billed Gull
Photo by Hobbyfotowiki on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

The Slender-billed Gull lives in the Mediterranean region. Its breeding colonies are in lagoons, marshes, and salt pans where its favorite meals - insects, fish, and crustaceans - are abundant. 

Unlike most gulls, the Slender-billed Gull has a pale pink hue on its chest and underparts during the breeding season. It is also known for its hunting technique, which involves swiftly skimming the water, snatching its prey using its long bill, and flying off. 

13. Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Black-headed Gull
Photo by Miraceti on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Black-headed Gull has a wingspan of 41 inches and weighs less than a pound. During the breeding season, its head turns brown, then white, with a dark spot behind the eye and a black spot in winter. 

This bird can live on coastlines, farmlands, marshes, and urban areas. Additionally, this social bird forms large colonies during the breeding season, nesting on the ground or in low bushes. Both parents share the duty of incubating eggs and caring for their chicks.

Regarding diet, the Black-headed Gull eats insects, earthworms, fish, and amphibians. It also scavenges in human areas and steals food from other birds. 

14. Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

Bonaparte's Gull
Photo by Wildreturn on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Bonaparte's Gull breeds in boreal forests in Canada and Alaska and migrates to Central America during the winter season. It has a light gray back, pinkish legs, and black wingtips. During the mating season, it wears a dark hood. 

Bonaparte's Gulls feed on insects, crustaceans, and small fish and make a high-pitched "klee-ip" call. 

15. Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

Ivory Gull
Photo by jomilo75 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Ivory Gull lives in the Arctic wilderness in Greenland, the edges of North America, and northern Eurasia. Its bright white adult plumage provides perfect camouflage against the icy backdrop. It also has yellow-tipped blue bills and black legs.

The Ivory Gull is monogamous and returns to the same nesting site year after year. During this season, it is identifiable by its red-tipped bills and red eyering.

It feeds on fish, crustaceans, rodents, eggs, and chicks and scours for carrion, including seal and porpoise remains. It will even trail predators for leftover kills.

16. Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea)

Ross's Gull
Photo by Lorie Shaull on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Named after the British explorer James Clark Ross, the Ross's Gull lives in the high Arctic. Its gull nests are concealed with seaweed or moss along the coasts of Siberia and Alaska. 

During the breeding season, its chest turns pink. It has predominantly white plumage, gray wings, a black neck ring, and a wedge-shaped tail. 

Ross's Gull eats small fish, invertebrates, insects, and berries. It can also capture prey mid-flight, dive into freezing waters, or scavenge from the water's surface. 

17. Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus)

 Little Gull
Photo by Andrej Chudý on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Little Gull is the world’s smallest gull species, with a maximum wingspan of 27 inches. It lives in the Palearctic region, dancing gracefully above the water. Additionally, it prefers marshy landscapes and creates nests among reed beds near freshwater. 

Its breeding plumage boasts a black hood, dark red bill, bright red legs, and a rosy underside. Non-breeding adults differ with a black cap, ear spot, and bill, and duller red legs. Both versions feature a pale gray back and dark gray underwings. The juveniles exhibit a blackish back, head, and a 'w' pattern on the upper wings.

The Little Gull eats tiny fish, insects, and plant matter, skillfully snatching prey from the water surface. 

18. Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus)

Mediterranean Gull
Photo by Martin Olsson on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Mediterranean Gull lives in coastal areas and inland wetlands. It is originally native to the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea and is now widespread across Europe, including the UK, Ireland, and Scotland. Winter migration brings it to the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. 

It displays a white body, pale gray mantle, and wings without black tips in its breeding phase. The dark red beak features a black band. Its black hood extends down the nape with white eye crescents. In the non-breeding phase, the hood becomes a dusky mask.

As for its dietary preference, it is an opportunistic omnivore, feeding on insects, earthworms, fish, and marine invertebrates.

19. Audouin's Gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii)

Audouin's Gull
Photo by pintafontes on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Audouin's Gull is a bird species named after the French naturalist Jean Victoire Audouin. 

It has a slender build, long wings, and a thin, black bill marked with a red ring. Its light gray back contrasts with its white underparts, and its wingtips are black. Its head also changes color from slate gray in the summer to pristine white in winter. 

This type of seagull graces the shores of various regions, from Morocco’s Atlantic coast to parts of southwest Portugal. It also appears in Mediterranean areas, including the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Turkey.

In 2020, Audouin's Gull was declared vulnerable due to an alarming decline initiated around 20102. The drastic reduction stems from a collapse of the main breeding colony after recurring low reproduction rates. Key contributors are reduced food supply from fisheries discards and escalated predation at colonies. Despite some birds forming new colonies, the population plunge persists.

20. Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

Black-legged Kittiwake
Photo by David Stanley on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Black-legged Kittiwake4 is a petite gull with a pearl-gray back and wings contrasted by a bright white head and belly. It also features distinctive black tail feather tips and a greenish-yellow beak, with leg colors varying from black to orange or red.

This seabird is geographically widespread, inhabiting North America's eastern and western coasts and extending globally. Despite its range, it favors coastlines and rarely ventures inland, even during winter months. 

Unlike other gulls, it avoids dumpsites in favor of natural food on the water surface, preying on small fish and invertebrates.

Unfortunately, the population of Black-legged Kittiwakes has been dwindling over the past three generations1, leading to its classification as Vulnerable since 2017. 

1

BirdLife International. (2019). Rissa tridactyla (amended version of 2018 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T22694497A155617539. 

2

BirdLife International. (2020). Larus audouinii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22694313A183584708.

3

Gill, F., Donsker.D., & Rasmussen, P. (Eds). (2023). IOC World Bird List (v13.1).

4

Coulson, J. C. (2011). The Kittiwake. London: T & AD Poyser.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by Denver Saldanha on Unsplash.
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