Great Black-backed Gull
(Larus marinus)


Picture of bird
© Ted Krug
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Great Black-backed Gull breeds along coastlines and islands of Atlantic Canada, and north to Labrador and Baffin Island; there is also a small population in Ontario. Its population has fluctuated greatly over the past 150 years, with large increases in the late 1800s, followed by large declines in the early 1900s due to feather and egg collecting, and then a rebound by the 1960s following the species’ protection (Anderson et al. 2016). Results from three large-scale surveys indicate a decrease in the population’s abundance relative to the 1970s, though there is some evidence of increases in the 1970s and 1980s, with the bulk of the decline since the 1990s. The species is large and dominant, and has been persecuted because of its ability to displace other waterbird and waterfowl species. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseHighAt an Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada50,000 - 100,000 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

Conservation and management

This species’ population abundance and breeding range increased rapidly in eastern North America after 1950 (Good 1998). Large and predatory, Great Black-backed Gulls were sometimes persecuted where they interfered with other birds or with human activities. Gull control programs remain in place at some locations. The population declines observed in Atlantic Canada in the 1990s are believed to be related to a cold water event that disrupted food webs and fisheries (Cotter et al. 2012); this event affected a number of Atlantic seabirds (Gaston et al. 2009). Current trends appear to be related to changes in regional fishing activity (Wilhelm et al. 2016).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Boreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Hardwood Transition, sub-region and priority type: Ontario and Manitoba -- Conservation
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Lower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence PlainLower Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Plain, sub-region and priority type: Ontario -- Conservation