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Herring Gull Larus argentatus

Herring Gull photo index
Herring Gull Photo Index

Regular and common (but perhaps declining) winter visitor. In recent years, small numbers have begun breeding on buildings in Birmingham and Worcester.

See also:  Roof-top nesting gulls within the Birmingham boundary


Herring Gull is perhaps the archetypical gull. In the West Midlands Region it is principally a winter visitor, taking advantage of the easy feeding at refuse tips and the roost-sites provided by waters such as reservoirs and gravel-pits. It appears to be even more dependent upon refuse tips for feeding than is Lesser Black-backed Gull, so that the closure of landfill sites is likely to lead to a radical decrease in wintering numbers.

Conversely, in recent years small numbers have begun breeding on flat-roofed buildings in Birmingham and Worcester. Even larger numbers of Lesser Black-backs are also now breeding at these sites. As nesting gulls can be quite aggressive, there is public concern at this phenomenon. In the Bristol area, where roof-top nesting is well-established, there is now a recognised 'problem' and means of dispersing the gulls are being investigated.

Winter Status

Herring Gull is a numerous winter visitor to the region and is found in moderate to large numbers at all the major gull roosts. It remains a numerous species but there was evidence of a decline during the latter part of the 1970s and the 1980s  compared with peak numbers recorded during the early 1970s. During that period, peak counts included 5000 at Draycote Water (Warks), 4000 at Blithfield Reservoir (Staffs), 3500 at Chasewater (Staffs) and 1000 in the Kingsbury area of the Warwickshire Tame Valley. Harrison et al. (1982) estimated that over 15000 were wintering in the region during the early 1970's but that this had declined to 10000-12000 by the end of the decade. Harrison & Harrison (2005) estimated that the regional wintering population was between 5000 and 8000 at the start of the current millennium. Since that time, numbers at individual sites have varied, primarily reflecting levels of activity at the nearest landfill sites. In N. Warks the closure of landfill sites has already been reflected in lower numbers of LWHGs at the Coton Lakes roost. In Worcs over 6000 Herring Gulls have been counted at the huge Throckmorton Landfill but that site ceased receiving household waste in October 2016, with a radical decline in the numbers of LWHGs. Landfill with organic waste was reinitiated during 2018 (apparently as a result of problems with county incinerators) and there was a partial recovery in the numbers of LWHGs. This is presumably a temporary 'reprieve' and it will be interesting to see how numbers respond across the region, as landfill operations are actively discouraged.

The five-yearly mean maximum counts at selected sites between 1986 and 2015 are presented in Table 1.

5-year Mean Draycote Tame Valley Westwood Blithfield Chasewater
1986 - 1990 1285 590 435 3120 2125
1991 - 1995 1955 325 390 inadequate data 1625
1996 - 2000 inadequate data 265 340 inadequate data 2200
2001 - 2005 1720 250 565 inadequate data 2180
2006 - 2010 2000 530 895 inadequate data 2600
2011 - 2015 inadequate data 200 2000 inadequate data 2870

Five-yearly mean maximum counts of Herring Gulls at selected sites in the West Midlands Region, 1986 - 2015.

Ringing studies (Green 1977, 1978; Stewart 1997) and field studies (Hume 1978) indicate that, as well as British argenteus, a significant proportion of the Herring Gulls wintering in the West Midlands Region are of Scandinavian origin i.e. nominate argentatus. This is supported by the monthly profile of numbers (Dean 1987). Ringing studies in northern Britain (Coulson et al. 1984) and in southeast England (Stanley et al. 1981) have indicated that nominate argentatus arrives on the wintering grounds later in the season than argenteus. British Herring Gulls tend to winter relatively close to their breeding grounds and there is significant occupation of wintering sites from August onwards (Stanley et al. 1981). By contrast, significant numbers of Scandinavian argentatus do not arrive in Britain before November and reach a peak in January; dispersal occurs rapidly in late January and February (see Coulson 2019).

For further details see 'Seasonality of Herring Gulls in the West Midlands region', which included the following figure indicating the winter distribution of Herring Gulls in the region, based upon data collected during the 1970s and 1980s.


Seasonality of Herring Gulls in the West Midlands Region

Fig. 1. Half-monthly distribution of Herring Gulls Larus argentatus: (a) right-hand scale and line: mean counts at Blithfield Reservoir, Staffordshire, 1974/75-83/84; (b) left-hand scale and blocks: summated counts in the West Midlands Region, 1970-84.

Thus, the characteristics of the winter profile - with numbers increasing from November, reaching a considerable peak in January, and a rapid dispersal during February - are close to those for populations known to include a significant argentatus component.

Herring Gulls have started to breed in the region since Figure 1 was generated in 1987 (but are well outnumbered by breeding Lesser Black-backed Gulls). The numbers of Herring Gulls present during spring, summer and even early autumn have increased correspondingly and some no doubt remain in the region throughout the winter. However, the numbers of breeding individuals (see below) are relatively small in comparison with the significant, incoming, mid-winter population, which numbers in the thousands. See <here> for discussions and graphics of the changes in monthly profile related to the larger breeding population of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Breeding status

The first breeding record for the region involved a nest with two eggs discovered at a tip near Bromsgrove, Worcs, in 1969. For some years this remained an isolated breeding record. In 1993 a pair nested unsuccessfully at Throckmorton. Between 1999 and 2002 one to three pairs nested on roof-tops in Worcester and this increased to between 20 and 25 pairs between 2003 and 2005. In central Birmingham one of two pairs raised one chick in 2005 and now breed regularly in increasing numbers at roof-top sites in central Birmingham and in the area of Bromford and Tyburn, though numbers remain well below those of Lesser Black-backed Gull. An investigation of the gulls nesting on roof-tops within the Birmingham city boundary was conducted by Jim Winsper between 2008 and 2011and confirmed 31 pairs of Herring Gulls breeding, compared with an estimate of 550 pairs of Lesser Black-backs. The results of this study are presented at:

Roof-top nesting gulls within the Birmingham boundary

A pilot survey for a national census was organised during 2018 in Birmingham by the BTO and DEFRA and found increased populations of 300 'apparently occupied nests' (AONs) of Herring Gulls and 1921 AONs of Lesser Black-backed Gull.

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Previous publications

Seasonality of Herring Gull in the West Midlands Region.

Wintering Glaucous, Iceland and Herring Gull in the midlands.

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