Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Herring Gull - Larus argentatus
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Herring Gull is, along with the Ring-billed Gull, one of the most abundant birds in tidal waters of the state in the cooler months. Unlike that species, hundreds of pairs now nest along the coast, and this breeding population has been expanding, to the detriment of other, smaller coastal nesting waterbirds. Where Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls nest, terns and Black Skimmers avoid these islands, as the gulls at times feed on eggs and chicks of these species, as well as eggs and chicks of various shorebirds, such as Piping and Wilson's plovers. Herring Gulls also winter on inland lakes, and are a common sight at landfills, with Ring-billed Gulls, though the latter species greatly outnumbers the Herring Gull at inland sites. Herring Gulls feed in most coastal and tidewater habitats, from offshore to the coastal zone, such as at tidal flats, estuaries, landfills, fish houses, and many other places. Unlike the Ring-billed, relatively few Herring Gulls feed in plowed fields and at shopping centers. Thousands roost on sand flats, and rare gull species tend to occur mixed with Herring Gulls, especially at Cape Hatteras Point.
Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S3B,S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Year-round resident, with migratory movements. Fairly common to locally common, and increasing, breeder along the coast, south to Carteret; less common southward, but a few have begun nesting in the lower Cape Fear River. At other seasons, abundant in coastal and tidewater habitats; mostly uncommon to locally fairly common farther inland, but scarce in many counties without large bodies of water. Large numbers arrive by Oct, and numbers increase during severely cold winters, especially in Feb. Reasonably common in the Tidewater zone all summer, when many of the birds are non-breeders. Peak counts: 100,000+, Oregon Inlet to Cape Hatteras, 1 Jan 1954; 100,000, Hatteras Inlet, 26-29 Dec 1983.
Piedmont Winter resident/visitor. Uncommon to locally fairly common, but mainly at larger reservoirs and landfills; quite rare in counties without large lakes. Populations increase during periods of extreme cold, when some lakes freeze up farther north. Mainly early Nov to early May, with a few birds at other months, though very rare in summer. Peak counts: 226, Jordan Lake CBC, 4 Jan 2009; 82, Falls Lake, 2 Dec 1987; 80, Beaverdam Reservoir, Wake, 31 Jan 1982.
Mountains Winter visitor. Surprisingly scarce, generally rare and sporadic, mainly in low elevations; very rare above 2,500 feet. Mostly late Dec to late Apr. Quite late in spring -- owing to Tropical Storm Arthur -- were singles at Lake Julian (Buncombe) and Hooper Lane (Transylvania), 20-22 May 2020. Peak counts: 4, Henderson, 18 Nov 2009; 4, Ecusta Pond (Transylvania), 9 Dec 2022; 3, Calvert (Transylvania), 23-24 Jan 1999.
Finding Tips None needed.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-14], LeGrand[2020-08-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.