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Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus


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Great Black-backed Gull
credit: Len Blumin/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has mostly uniformly dark back and upper wings (wingtips sometimes appear very marginally darker than rest of wings in good light). Has white patch at very tip of wings and broad white trailing edge running along almost entire length of wing. Plumage is otherwise white. Bill is yellow with an orange spot. ADULT WINTER Similar, but head and neck have faint gray-brown streaks and bill and leg colors are duller. JUVENILE Has mottled and streaked gray-brown plumage. In flight, the brown upper wings reveal pale panels on upper wing coverts and inner primaries. Bill is dark, legs are dull pink and whitish tail has a dark terminal band. By first-winter, head and neck are whiter and cleaner looking. Full adult plumage is acquired over next 3 years. Not until third-winter does back becomes dark; by this time bill is pale pink with a dark tip.

Dimensions Length: 30" (76 cm)

Habitat Locally common, present year-round on northern Atlantic coast and around Great Lakes. Summer range extends north along Canadian coast and winter range extends south down Atlantic seaboard.

Observation Tips Usually easy to see in winter at coastal gull roosts, in harbors, and at garbage dumps.

Range Western Canada, New England, Florida, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Alaska, Great Lakes, Eastern Canada

Voice Utters a deep kaa-ga-ga call.

Discussion Largest gull in the world. Bears a passing resemblance to Lesser Black-backed but always looks bulkier and adult shows little discernible difference between dark overall upper wing color and that of primaries (these always look appreciably darker than upper wing in Lesser Black-backed). Note also the massive bill and pale pink (not yellow) legs in adult birds. Feeds on carrion and also an active predator of seabirds in spring and summer. Territorial pairs typically nest close to colonially nesting birds for food. Sexes are similar.