email a friend
printable version
Mew Gull Larus canus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend is not known, but the population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Distribution and population
The Mew Gull breeds in northern Europe, northern Asia and north-west North America. Most populations, except those in Iceland, around the North and Baltic Sea, and some off the coast of Canada migrate south. This expands its range to include the Pacific coast of North America down to Baja California (Mexico), the Pacific coast of Asia down to northern Vietnam, the Atlantic coasts of France and Portugal, the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, the entire coasts of the Black Sea and Persian Gulf, and the south coast of the Caspian Sea (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c.2,500,000-3,700,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2006), while national population sizes have been estimated at c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 wintering individuals in China and c.10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration in Russia (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
The population trend is difficult to determine because of uncertainty over the extent of threats to the species across its wide range (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

Behaviour This species is fully migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It breeds from May onwards in solitary pairs or in single- and mixed-species colonies of up to 300 pairs (Flint et al. 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1996) or more (e.g. 1,000 pairs in Baltic region (Snow and Perrins 1998)). Outside of the breeding season the species remains gregarious, foraging in flocks of up to one hundred or more individuals during the winter, flock sizes depending upon the habitat and conditions (Snow and Perrins 1998). Habitat Breeding The species breeds along the coast (Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998) and inland (Flint et al. 1984, Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998) in a variety of sites not necessarily close to wetlands (del Hoyo et al. 1996). On the coast it nests on grassy and rocky cliff-ledges (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998), grassy slopes (Richards 1990, Snow and Perrins 1998), inshore rocky islets, islands and stacks (Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998), and on sand and shingle beaches, banks and dunes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998) amongst tide-wrack or flood debris (Snow and Perrins 1998). Inland the species nests on small islands in freshwater and saline lakes (Flint et al. 1984), shingle bars or small islets in streams or rivers (Richards 1990), islets, artificial structures and shores of artificial waterbodies with short, sparse vegetation (Skorka et al. 2006), and on bogs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998), marshes (del Hoyo et al. 1996), meadows (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and grass or heather moorland near small pools (Richards 1990, Snow and Perrins 1998) or lakes (Snow and Perrins 1998). After the young fledge the species often disperses to coasts, tidal estuaries, agricultural land and reservoirs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). Non-breeding Outside of the breeding season it occupies similar habitats to when it is breeding, although it may occur more frequently along the coast during this period (Snow and Perrins 1998) on estuaries with low salinities, sandy beaches and estuarine mudflats (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003). Diet Its diet consists of earthworms, insects, aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (e.g. planktonic crustaceans (del Hoyo et al. 1996), crayfish and molluscs (Flint et al. 1984)) and small fish (del Hoyo et al. 1996). During the spring the species will also take agricultural grain (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and often scavanges (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003). Breeding site The nest is a shallow cup of vegetation placed on grass, rock, sand, shingle, earth or floating and marshy vegetation (del Hoyo et al. 1996) in a variety of coastal and inland locations (Flint et al. 1984, Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). The species may also nest off the ground on artificial structures, in nest-boxes and in trees (Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996). Management information The species may benefit from the removal of introduced predators such as American mink Neovison vison from small breeding islands (Nordstrom et al. 2003), and has been known to nest on artificial rafts intended to encourage other species (e.g. Common Tern Sterna hirundo) to breed (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003).

Breeding In north and west Europe the species is threatened at breeding colonies by predation from introduced ground predators such as American mink Neovison vison (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003), and by disturbance from tourism, angling and research activities during the laying period (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003). Inland populations breeding in colonies near rivers are also vulnerable to mass outbreaks of black flies (Simuliidae) (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003). The species is also threatened by the transformation and loss of its breeding habitats through land reclamation, drainage, afforestation (e.g. with conifers) and dam construction (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003). Non-breeding In its wintering range the species is potentially threatened by the activities of fisheries (e.g. reductions in fishing effort, increases in net mesh sizes and exploitation of formerly non-commercial fish species) and their effects on competition for prey resources (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003). Other threats to wintering sites include land reclamation and drainage (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003). Utilisation Egg collecting from in colonies occurs in Germany, Scotland, the Russian Federation and Poland, and the species is shot in the Russian Federation (Bukacinski and Bukacinska 2003).

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Bukacińska, D.; Bukacińska, M. 2003. Larus canus Common Gull. Birds of the Western Palearctic Update 5(1): 13-47.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Flint, V.E., Boehme, R.L., Kostin, Y.V. and Kuznetsov, A.A. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Nordström, M.; Högmander, J.; Nummelin, J.; Laine, J.; Laanetu, N.; Korpimäki, E. 2003. Effects of feral mink removal on seabirds, waders and passerines on small islands in the Baltic Sea. Biological Conservation 109: 359-368.

Richards, A. 1990. Seabirds of the northern hemisphere. Dragon's World Ltd, Limpsfield, U.K.

Skorka, P.; Martyka, R.; Wojcik, J. D.; Babiarz, T.; Skorka, J. 2006. Habitat and nest site selection in the common gull Larus canus in southern Poland: significanceof man-made habitats for conservation of an endangered species. Acta Ornithologica (Warsaw) 42(2): 137-144.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Vahatalo, A. V.; Rainio, K.; Lehikoinen, A.; Lehikoinen, E. 2004. Spring arrival of birds depends on the North Atlantic Oscillation. Journal of Avian Biology 35: 210-216.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Malpas, L. & Newton, P.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Larus canus. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Common gull (Larus canus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Laridae (Gulls, Terns, Skimmers)
Species name author Linnaeus, 1758
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Unknown
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 14,200,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment