Common gull (Larus canus)

Also known as: mew gull
French: Goéland cendré
GenusLarus (1)
SizeWingspan: 99-108cm(2)
Length: 40-46 cm (2)
Weight300-480 g (3)

The common gull is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (3). Receives general protection in Great Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (4).

The name common gull (Larus canus) is rather misleading, as this gull is not all that common (5). It is generally similar in appearance to the herring gull (Larus argentatus) but is smaller, and has a smaller, thinner bill, a more rounded head and more active flight (2). The upperwings are pale grey in colour and have black tips featuring white spots known as ‘mirrors’ (6). The white head develops grey streaks in winter and the legs and bill are greenish-yellow. Juveniles are greyish brown with brown upperparts (2). The calls produced by common gulls are higher pitched than those of herring gulls; a ‘ke ke ke ke kleeeh-a’ call is said to resemble laughter (2).

The common gull has a wide distribution, breeding throughout temperate and sub-Arctic parts of Eurasia. Two subspecies occur in Europe, the ‘nominate’ race L. c. canus is the subspecies occurring in Britain, extending through north-west Europe and reaching the White Sea in Russia. There is also a subspecies that occurs in North America (4). In Britain, this species breeds mainly in Scotland (4). In winter it is becomes more common in the rest of Britain, occurring inland and around the coast (7).

In summer the common gull breeds on moorland on islands and cliffs close to lochs, lakes, bogs and marshes (3). During winter it can be seen on farmland, reservoirs, coasts, lakes and playing fields (3).

During winter, common gulls feed mainly on earthworms; they are often attracted to recently ploughed fields for this reason (7). At other times of the year they will also feed on insects, fish, small mammals, carrion and rubbish (3) (6). They are often attracted to rubbish dumps in harsh winter weather (6).

The nest is built on the ground, on boulders, in low trees or on buildings, typically near water (2). Occasionally common gulls nest in groups with herring gulls, but they may also nest alone (6). Pairs produce between two and five eggs, which are incubated for up to 28 days. The chicks are fully fledged after a further 35 days (3). These gulls are relatively long-lived, with the maximum recorded life-span being 24 years (3).

The common gull is not threatened at present.

Conservation action has not been targeted at the common gull.

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For more information on the common gull and other bird species:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. RSPB A-Z of Birds: common gull (February 2004):
  4. JNCC Special Protection Areas for the common gull (February 2004):
  5. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air. Book Club Associates, London
  6. Holden, P. & Sharrock, J.T.R. (2002) The RSPB Guide to British Birds.. Pan Macmillan, London.
  7. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.