NATURE TABLE: Herring gull

The herring gull in adult plumage is a large white gull with pale grey upper wings with a black and white tip.

It has a heavy yellow beak with an orange spot and pink legs. But for the first three years of its life, the plumage is a varying mixture of brown and white and immature birds are easily confused with immature greater and lesser black backed gulls.

Several gull species have taken to living in urban areas and at some rural inland sites. This is probably because commercial fishing pressure has reduced their food resources in traditional coastal habitats. But the herring gull is the species responsible for most of the “atrocities” reported recently in the media. They are declining rapidly in numbers and are red-listed in Britain and Ireland.

It’s estimated that the number of breeding pairs in Ireland has declined by 90% since 1987. They are both predators and scavengers and it’s believed one of the reasons for the decline is food poisoning after feeding at landfill sites.


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