Herring Gull
(Larus argentatus)


Picture of bird
© Jukka Jantunen (flickr.com/photos/jukka_jantunen)
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Herring Gull is the most widely distributed gull in the Northern Hemisphere, and breeds across much of Canada. 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). Surveys from the southern portion of its breeding range indicate large decreases in abundance relative to about 1970, which is supported by information from the Christmas Bird Count, which monitors the species on its wintering grounds. In the Great Lakes, high levels of contaminants hampered reproduction in the 1970s, and in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, populations were strongly influenced by the rise and fall of groundfish fisheries, which once provided abundant fish offal and discards (Wilhelm et al. 2016). Accidental and chronic oil pollution also pose a risk in the marine environments of Atlantic Canada (Pekarik and Weseloh 1998). 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 
Partners in Flight (North America)Common birds in steep decline2017 
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
Canada200,000 - 300,000 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between early April and early June and ends between mid-July and early August, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

High levels of contaminants in the eggs of Herring Gulls in the Great Lakes dramatically reduced rates of hatching at some sites in the 1970s (Pekarik and Weseloh 1998). Levels of most harmful organochlorine compounds have since decreased (Pekarik and Weseloh 1998, Nisbet et al. 2017), but toxic substances in general remain a concern for Herring Gulls nesting near highly developed areas. In Eastern Canada, changes in the intensity of fisheries and their waste management practices (i.e., a reduction in fish discards) had a strong influence on the populations of this opportunistic scavenger, which benefited from the flourishing groundfish fisheries from the 1960s to the 1980s, but later suffered from their collapse (Wilhelm et al. 2016). Fishing gear entanglement is a threat for this species; gulls are killed while attempting to feed on baited fish or fishing lures (Nisbet et al. 2017). In Atlantic Canada, accidental and chronic oil pollution are also a threat in some locations.


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: Ontario -- Conservation
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Boreal Taiga PlainsBoreal Taiga Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation
Northwestern Interior ForestNorthwestern Interior Forest, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Other
Taiga Shield and Hudson PlainsTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation