Adult. Note: dark mantle and pale pink legs.
  • Adult. Note: dark mantle and pale pink legs.
  • Adult. Note: dark mantle, massive bill, and red orbital ring.
  • 1st year. Note: massive bill with pronounced gonydeal angle.
  • 3rd year

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Great Black-backed Gull

Larus marinus
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
The family Laridae is made up of birds closely associated with water. Distributed throughout the world, representatives of this family nest on every continent, including Antarctica. Most are long-lived birds, many of which do not breed until they are three or four years old. Most are colony nesters and nest on the ground. Clutch size is generally small, varying from one to four eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and help feed the young. The young typically hatch covered with down and stay in the nest for a few days, after which they leave the nest but stay nearby. Most, especially in Washington, raise a single brood a year. This group is known for its elaborate displays in the air and on the ground.

The Washington representatives of this family can be split into two groups, or subfamilies. The adaptable gulls are the most familiar. Sociable in all seasons, they are mainly coastal, but a number of species also nest inland. Many—but not all—are found around people. Gulls have highly variable foraging techniques and diets. Terns forage in flight, swooping to catch fish or insects. They dive headfirst into the water for fish. Although they are likely to be near water, they spend less time swimming than gulls.

    General Description

    Although variable in size, the Great Black-backed Gull is on average the largest of all gulls, with some individuals weighing more than five pounds. In adult plumage, attained in four years, it has a large head and heavy bill, yellow eye (usually), and light pink legs. Its dark gray-black mantle is darker than that of any other gull likely to be seen in Washington. However, in immature plumages this species is less easily separated from other large gulls, especially Herring Gull. Consult field guides for the fine points.

    This North Atlantic native breeds from the Arctic to the Carolinas, the Great Lakes, Britain, France, and the Baltic Sea, with some southward movement in winter to the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and the Iberian Peninsula. In recent years small numbers of birds have been straying farther and farther westward in North America. There are now four records from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The first, an adult, came at Kamloops, British Columbia, in December 1988. The second was a second-winter bird at Kodiak, Alaska, in February 1995. The third was a first-winter bird found at Boise, Idaho, in December 2003. The fourth came a month later in Washington, when a second-winter bird was discovered at the mouth of the Cedar River in Renton (King County), in January 2004.

    Revised June 2007

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

    View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern