Animal names can become mired in misunderstandings. Sometimes, the name humans commonly use for animals has nothing to do with the creature’s name. That is the case with the herring gull, or as often mistakenly referred to, the seagull. These two types of birds may look alike and share many behaviors, but they aren’t the same. Let’s explore the key differences between these two birds while highlighting some unique qualities.
Comparing a Herring Gull and a Seagull
|Herring Gull||Seagull, or gull|
|Size||Weight: 1.3 to 3.36 pounds|
Length: 20-26 inches
Wingspan: 47 to 61 inches
|Weight: 4 ounces to 3 pounds 14 ounces |
Length: 11.5 to 31 inches
Wingspan: 24 to 67 inches
|Species||– Family Laridae |
– Larus Genus
– 6 Species, including the American, European, Vega, Armenian, Caspian, and Yellow-legged gulls
– Some refer to Larus argentatus, the European Herring Gull
|– Family Laridae |
– 10 Genera
– 54 Gull species
|Range||– Found in North America, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia||– Breed and live on every continent, including Antarctica|
|Diet||– Primarily invertebrates and fish|
– Also eats eggs, insects, other birds, carrion, and marine worms
|– Consume a wide variety of foods including invertebrates, other birds, fish, rodents, reptiles, human garbage, and carrion|
The Key Differences Between a Herring Gull vs Seagull
The most remarkable difference between a herring gull and a seagull is that a herring gull is often more prominent. Additionally, seagulls, or simply gulls, have more species. The average herring gull weighs between 1.3 and 3.36 pounds and grows between 20 and 26 inches long. The herring gull also has a wingspan that measures up to 61 inches. Some seagulls might showcase larger sizes, but they usually don’t.
The seagull’s weight range is between 4 ounces and 3 pounds to 14 ounces. They grow 11.5 to 21 inches in length with a wingspan of anywhere between 24 and 67 inches. On average, a herring gull is bigger, except for rare huge seagulls.
It’s important to note that there are more seagulls than herring gulls, with over 54 gull species across 10 genera. In comparison, there are only six species of herring gulls known. Let’s examine why differentiating seagulls from herring gulls is more complicated than it sounds.
Herring Gull vs Seagull: Species
Firstly, the main issue in differentiating a herring gull from a seagull is that there are multiple species for both. Additionally, no bird is scientifically recognized and classified as a seagull. Seagull is a colloquial name for gulls, all of which are seabirds. Currently, 54 gull species have been identified and come from the phylogenetic family Laridae. Seagulls come from 10 genera and have 54 recognized species.
All herring gulls are seagulls, or, more accurately, gulls. However, not all seagulls are herring gulls. Only six species of herring gulls are recognized: American gulls, European gulls, Vega gulls, Armenian gulls, Caspian gulls, and yellow-legged gulls. The yellow-legged gull was previously considered a subspecies of the Caspian herring gull until recently.
Herring Gull vs Seagull: Size
Herring gulls are larger than the majority of seagulls. The average herring gull measures 20 and 26 inches in length, has a wingspan of 47 to 61 inches and weighs 1.3 to 3.36 pounds. Meanwhile, seagulls weigh between 4 ounces and 3 pounds 14 ounces, grow 11.5 to 31 inches long, and have a wingspan between 24 and 67 inches.
Herring gulls are thick-bodied creatures with a large wingspan, and most seagulls are noticeably smaller. However, the upper range of the seagulls’ size is derived from a single bird called the great black-backed gull. The size difference would generally favour the latter if you saw the average seagull and average herring gull together.
Herring Gull vs Seagull: Range
Seagulls and herring gulls are found in many places, but seagulls are generally more widespread. After all, the six species of herring gulls tend to be located in the area for which they are named, yellow-legged gull and Vega gull aside. Generally, these creatures are found in North America, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.
Seagulls live on every continent. Meanwhile, seagulls have a much larger range. In fact, they can be described as having a cosmopolitan distribution, meaning they are found throughout the world in any place that is an appropriate habitat for the birds. For example, kelp gulls and southern black-backed gulls are located on the outer perimeter of Antarctica.
Thus, it’s more likely that someone in the southern hemisphere will encounter a seagull or gull that is not a herring gull than those in the northern hemisphere.
Herring Gull vs Seagull: Diet
Both herring gulls and seagulls consume many of the same foods. Herring gulls usually eat invertebrates and fish but consume marine worms, insects, eggs, and even other birds. They will even eat carrion and dead animals. They are opportunistic omnivores that will eat a meal wherever they can find it, even if that is in the hands of a human!
Seagulls eat invertebrates, other birds, fish, rodents, reptiles, human garbage, and carrion. They are frequently seen chasing ships laden with waste and haunt the beaches in warm weather, hoping to snatch food from an unexpecting human’s hand.
Still, seagulls roam more land, so they must eat some foods that are simply not available in the range of herring gulls.
All in all, it’s complicated to tell seagulls and herring gulls apart. Their morphological differences are minor. An extensive range of sizes and shapes exist between the various species of both creatures. Thus, it’s best to reach a conclusion based on their location, diet and size. Those factors are most likely to help you differentiate the animals.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/autina
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- Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/herring-gull#:~:text=Omnivorous.,Scavenges%20refuse%20and%20carrion
- Michigan State University, Available here: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/wait_thats_not_a_seagull_msg16_schroeder16_nelson16
- RSPB, Available here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/herring-gull/
- The Wildlife Trusts, Available here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/seabirds/great-black-backed-gull