Nature Journal
with Photos

Herring Gull Identification Tips
(Credit: U. S. Geological Survey)
General Information
- Large gull
- Fairly large bill with distinct gonydeal angle
- Flat forehead and large bill give "mean" appearance

Adult alternate
- Bright yellow bill with red spot at gonys
- Pink legs
- Yellow iris
- White head, neck, breast, and belly
- Gray back and upperwings
- White tertial crescent
- Black primaries with white tips and two white mirrors
  on outer primaries
- White tail

Adult basic
- Like adult alternate but blurry brown streaking and
  spotting on head and nape

- Black bill
- Brown body plumage
- Dark brown primaries and secondaries
- Black legs quickly become pink
- Dark barred rump
- Dark tail

- Pinkish bill with black tip
- Pale brown head, neck, upper breast, and belly
- Dull brown upperwing coverts
- Dark brown primaries and tail
- Gray back
- White tail with black terminal band


- Like adult basic, but often lacks adult bill pattern,
  wing pattern, and often retains a partial tail band

Similar species
Adult Herring Gulls are similar to California Gulls but are larger, have pinkish legs, a yellow iris, paler backs, and a slightly thicker yellow bill with more pronounced gonys. First-winter Herring Gulls are extremely similar to young California Gulls but usually have entirely black bills and only show contrasting secondaries in flight, and lack contrasting greater secondary coverts. Immature birds can be distinguished by back color when it is acquired but are otherwise probably best separated by the subtleties of size, shape, and bill shape.

Adult Herring Gulls are similar to adult Ring-billed Gulls but are much larger with larger bills and a more pronounced gonydeal angle. Ring-billed Gulls have yellow legs and a complete black ring on the bill. Immatures Herring Gulls are browner overall than immature Ring-billed Gulls and show less contrast between the upperwing coverts and the secondaries.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls are much darker-backed and have yellow legs, while first-year birds are very similar but have whiter rumps, darker wing coverts, entirely black bills through their first summer, and paler heads and underparts that are spotted with brown. Western Gull is quite similar in subadult plumages but has a white rump that contrasts with back in first-year plumages, a larger bill, and shows the distinctive dark back color by the second winter.

Immature Glaucous-winged Gulls lack the contrast between the upperwing coverts and primaries shown by all Herring Gulls. Thayer' Gull differs from Herring Gull primarily by morphological features. Glaucous-winged x Western Gull hybrids are typically larger-billed than Herring Gulls, and show paler primaries as immatures and a single white mirror on primaries as adults.
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