They are generally medium to large birds, typically grey or white, often with black markings on the head or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet.Gulls are robust birds with webbed feet, long wings and a slightly hooked beak. They all possess exceptional flying ability. They are often seen swimming, and occasionally they dive underwater. Adult gulls are white, with varying patterns of gray and black over the back, wings, and head. The young of larger species are often gray and take several years to develop adult plumage.
Range and Habitat
The herring (Larus argentatus) and ring-billed (L. delawarensis) gulls are the most common and widespread of the species. They are distributed throughout North America, from coastal to inland areas, from unsettled areas to the downtown cores of large cities, from farmers’ fields to fast-food outlets and drive-in theaters. Other common species include the laughing gull (L. atricilla), Franklin’s gull (L. pipixcan), great black-backed gull (L. marinus) and California gull (L. californicus). Some species are limited to coastal habitats, while others may occur inland seasonally, rarely or in specialized habitats.
They build nests on the ground and produce 3 to 5 eggs per nest. In the Great Lakes region, the number of ring-billed gulls has been increasing at about 10% per year since the early 1970s. The ring-billed gull yields readily to persecution, is easily driven from its breeding grounds and seems to prefer to breed in remote, unsettled regions far from the haunts of man. However, a colony on Leslie Spit on the waterfront of Toronto, Ontario, increased from 20 pairs in 1973 to 75,000 to 80,000 pairs in 1982. It appears that ring-billed gulls have changed some of their habits in recent years and have adapted to humans in their environment.
Increasing gull populations in North America during the past century have led to a variety of problems for different segments of society. Gulls cause damage to agricultural crops and threaten human safety at and near airports. They are involved in more collisions with aircraft than any other bird group because they are numerous and widely distributed. The presence of gull roosts near reservoirs increases their potential for transmitting diseases to human populations. Gulls are occasionally a nuisance when they nest on rooftops and seek food from people eating out-of-doors.
Gulls are classified as migratory species and thus are protected by federal and, in most cases, state laws. In the United States, gulls may be taken only with a permit issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Permits are issued only after frightening techniques, physical barriers, or both have been used correctly and qualified personnel certify that these methods have been ineffective. Some states may require an additional permit to kill gulls. No federal permit is needed, however, to frighten or mechanically exclude gulls.
Damage Prevention and Control Methods
Construct complete enclosures of plastic or wire mesh. Suspend parallel wire or monofilament strands over area needing protection. Use porcupine wires on roosting sites.
Reduce or eliminate sources of food, water and nesting or resting sites.
Auditory and visual frightening devices can be effective for limited time periods.
None are registered.
Rocket or cannon netting over bait. Box trapping over nests and eggs. Spotlighting and netting by hand at night.
The above information was adapted from PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE with permission of the editors, Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm, and Gary E. Larson (Cooperative Extension Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska-Lincoln, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Damage Control, Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee).