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Gulls General

Gulls General

Gulls were sometimes consumed by cultures including Coast Salish, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Hare (Sahtu), Alaskan cultures, Red Earth Cree and Hudson Bay and Labrador Inuit [2, 8-13]. Some northern cultures are reported to have hunted gulls in abundance [14]. In the Arctic, cultures including Greenland Inuit, hunted gulls in spring through fall [12, 15]; Chandalar Kutchin reportedly consumed gulls in summer [16] and Chipewyan hunted young gulls in spring and summer with shotguns [17].


Gulls were hunted in summer by St. Lawrence Yupik, Eskimo Point Inuit and others [4, 12, 18-20]. In winter in the North, older men spent much of their time hunting gulls because they greatly enjoyed gull meat [21]. Puget Sound cultures also considered gull to be food for the elderly [22]. When gulls were hunted just before winter, they were often frozen for use in mid-winter when food was scarce [15].

A variety of hunting tools were used including bows and arrows, slingshots, shotguns, traps (snares, among others) and gorges. Some cultures used fox traps, which reportedly yielded a large number of gulls [23]. Although not frequently, Nuxalk hunted gulls using a bow with a specially designed bird arrow [8, 24]. Gulls came to the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia to feast on fish. When the gulls had consumed plenty of fish, the Haida hunted them for their own feast [25]. Flocks of gulls assembled near fishing areas in the Yukon. The birds waited there to peck at the fish left in traps. Young boys would use sling shots or snares on these gulls [1]. Snares were often used to hunt gulls [12]. Snaring gulls was a favourite pastime of Netsilik Inuit children. Caribou liver was placed on a stone that was sitting on a circular snare. The string attached to the snare would lead to a child’s hiding place. When the gull approached the bait and placed his foot inside the snare, the young hunter would pull his string tight to trap the bird. Children would frequently play with their prize, letting it fly about at the end of the rope and sometimes throw rocks at it. Gulls could also be caught with gorges, made with a bone needle sharpened at both ends and a line of sinew in the middle, which was anchored to the ground with a heavy rock. Caribou meat was wrapped around the trap as bait. Upon swallowing the trap, the gull would be caught [26]. The Southern Coast Salish also caught gulls with the help of gorges [8].  The gorge hooks used by Wainwright Inupiat were made of pointed bone, sticks or fishhooks, wrapped in blubber or meat and attached to a long cord. The gull would swallow the trap wrapped in bait and the sharp object would become lodged inside the bird, allowing the hunter to reel it in [20, 27].

Cultures of the North hunted gulls with their bare hands from inside snow houses [12]. Central Inuit would build a flat snow house with a thin and translucent block in the roof. The hunter, hiding in the house, could easily push his hand through the roof. A piece of bait, such as blubber or seal meat, was placed on this thin block and the hunter would imitate the gull’s cry. When a gull came to feed, the hunter would pull the bird down through the roof [28, 29]. The hunter would then kill the gull by strangling [21].


The Coast Salish reportedly cooked gulls by either fire-roasting, steaming over hot rocks with water or boiling in boxes filled with hot rocks and water [30, 31]. Arctic women would pluck and skin the gull before putting it into a cooking pot [21].

Some Northwest Coast cultures did not eat gulls because they found the flesh tough and the feathers difficult to pluck [32]. Wainwright Inupiat gave gull meat to the older generation, who was said to enjoy the taste, but they also fed gulls to dogs [27]. Some Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) have said that older people remember eating gulls, but generally they were not well-regarded as food; they were used more for the feathers [33, 34].


Gull eggs were eaten by west coast cultures (including Quileute, Coast Salish, Nootka [Nuu-chah-nulth], Kwakiutl, Chilcotin, Haida and Ingalik), Micmac (Mi'kmaq) and Labrador Inuit, among others [1, 6, 8, 12, 30, 35-42]. The eggs of the Sabine’s gull were considered a favourite in the Arctic [15].

Eggs were usually gathered in spring. Haida and Tlingit families celebrated the coming of spring (the new season of plenty) by collecting eggs of gulls from the Forrester Islands [43]. The Kyuquot Nootka and the Tsimshian gathered gull eggs in early June [8, 42]. Nootka reportedly considered gull eggs a delicacy, usually eating them boiled [42]. The Penobscot of Maine relished gull eggs both cooked and raw [44].

Uses other than food

The Haida reportedly used gull feathers to stuff pillows [25]. In the Arctic, gull skin was used for socks [21], and Wainwright Inupiat made fishing gear with gull wing tendons [27]. Sewing thread could be made from a gull’s esophagus, after this was dried and cut into very thin strips [12].

Gull feathers were valued for arrow making. In the North, bird bolt arrows were tipped with two gull feathers. The shaft of the feather was split, and the web was cut. The feathers were then tied to the arrow with fine sinew [45]. The Nuxalk and Nootka of Vancouver Island and Cape Flattery also fletched their hunting arrows with gull feathers [32, 46]. West coast cultures sometimes used the feathers for bedding, but the gull feathers are considered coarse and were not preferred [22].

Beliefs and taboos

Arctic story-telling often features the gull and its relations with people. One such story describes a gull who kidnapped a girl to be his wife: luckily she escaped [15]. Gulls were often considered pests. Tlingit children were given the task of driving away gulls who had come to peck at fish left drying in the sun [47]. Kyuquot Nootka described the gull as “sacred for us Indians” and should not be killed. However, many youth are reported to have made the gull a practice target for their air guns [42].

Herring Gull

Herring Gulls were often hunted when other food was scarce. The bird was reported to have been consumed by the Gulf of Georgia Salish, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Kootenai, Gitksan (Gitxsan), Tlingit, Inuvialuit, Peel River Kutchin (Gwich’in) and Dogrib [29, 38, 47-53]. In the Yukon, Herring Gull was not usually a favourite, but these birds were eaten when found [1]. In the far North, the Herring Gulls were eaten on occasion [45]. Wainwright Inupiat hunted Herring Gulls in emergencies because they were abundant and could be caught without wasting ammunition. These birds were also easy to catch because they are large, slow and unafraid of humans. Herring Gulls would often frequent camps, looking for food to scavenge [27].

Glaucous Gull

The Glaucous Gull was eaten by Haida, Inuvialuit and Southeast Alaska Tlingit, among others [43, 45, 50, 54]. The glaucous gull was an Inupiat favourite.

Inupiat hunted Glaucous Gulls along the shore in fall. A small stick of hard wood sharpened at both ends was attached in the middle to a line of deer sinew, which was fastened to a stake set in the ground. The hunter would wrap the stick in meat and blubber and lay it down on the beach. When a gull attempted to swallow the bait, the stick would catch in his gullet and turn sideways. Struggling would fix the stick more tightly. The hunter would collect the bird later [15]. Wainwright Inupiat also hunted Glaucous Gull in fall and spring to early summer. Flocks were lured with meat or blubber left on the beach. Alternatively, hunters left dead gulls in sight so that the flocks would come to investigate. The birds could also be lured by hunters imitating their cry. When the birds were close enough, the hunters would shoot the gulls from the beach. Wainwright Inupiat preferred young Glaucous Gulls; they were said to be tastier and easier to obtain because they are less cautious [27].

Black-legged Kittiwake

The Black-legged Kittiwake was reportedly consumed by Kwakiutl, Wainwright Inupiat and Greenland Inuit, among others [8, 12, 15, 27].

Mew Gull

Mew Gulls were eaten by Kwakiutl and Nuvorugmiut (Inuvialuit) [8, 9, 50]. This species was referred to as “walrus bird” by Wainwright Inupiat because hunting this gull could help locate walrus herds. To lure the gulls, hunters would imitate their calls as the flocks flew overhead [27].

Ross’s Gull and Ivory Gull

Ross’s gull and ivory gull were less common for Inupiat, however ivory gull was eaten in many regions of the Arctic [15, 27].

Ring-billed Gull

The ring-billed gull was common in the far North and occasionally consumed [45].

Sabine’s Gull

Sabine’s gull was hunted in spring and summer by Wainwright Inupiat [27].


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Gulls General

Gulls General

Gulls are shorebirds that fly or soar above the water, feed along shorelines, and float on the water surface. They also readily scavenge food from human-generated waste sites. Most gulls migrate from more southern wintering range to more northern breeding range, but they can be year-round resident in some part of their range. In North America, common species of gulls include Glaucous Gull (Laru hyperboreus), Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), Mew Gull (Larus canus), Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea), Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea), Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis), Sabine’s Gull (Larus sabini), and Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla).

Gulls are in the same family as species of terns, but are larger and bulkier, generally lack their elongated forked tail, and have a more hooked bill, most often yellowish in colour. They are usually gray above with a white head, neck, and underparts and a cryptic brown immature plumage. Gulls have long, pointed wings, reaching up to 1.5 m in Glaucous and Herring Gulls. 

Gulls form long-lasting monogamous pairs and breed along shorelines, marshes, or swamps. Most gulls nest in large breeding colonies, but some also nest as solitary pairs. They nest in a slight depression lined with withered vegetation and lay around 2 eggs incubated for up to four weeks. Chicks are fed by both parents and fledge after more than five weeks [1].

Herring Gull

The Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) occurs along shorelines of almost any open water bodies, from oceans and seas to lakes and large rivers. In North America, they breed from the southern coast of Alaska eastward across most of Canada, including the Great Lakes, and south along the Atlantic coast, up to North Carolina. Some Herring Gulls are year-round residents, like on the Great Lakes, southern Alaskan coast, and along the east coast, but most migrate south to spend the winter along both Pacific and Atlantic coasts up to tropical waters of Mexico, but also inland along major rivers of south-eastern United States. They are a large gull, weighing between 0.8 and 1.3 kg with a wingspan over 1 m, and are closely related to the Glaucous Gull. They have a white neck, head, and underparts, gray wings with black and white tips, a robust yellowish bill with a red spot under the tip, yellowish eyes, and pinkish legs and feet. They have an extremely varied diet that includes live prey, like insects, mollusks, crustaceans, fish, birds eggs and chicks, as well as dead animals and human trash. They breed in colonies, preferably on islands (of any type and size) that are inaccessible to terrestrial predators. They form life-long monogamous pairs and can live for up to 20 years. Birds of prey are important predators of adult birds, while chicks and eggs are taken by other gulls, foxes, ravens, and crows. Herring Gulls experienced a serious population decline in the early 1900s, but have since recovered and stabilized [2].

Glaucous Gull

The Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) is present during the summer breeding season along the northern North American coast, from Alaska and the Canadian Arctic to Labrador. They either spend the winter along the Pacific coast, as far south as California, or along the Altantic coast, up to Virginia and including the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. They are a large gull, weighing between 1.3 and 2.7 kg with a wingspan over 1 m, and are closely related to the Herring Gull. They are almost entirely white, except for pale gray wings, a massive yellow bill with a red spot under the tip, yellowish eyes, and pinkish legs and feet. They have an extremely varied diet that includes live prey, like invertebrates, fish, birds eggs, chicks, and small mammals, as well as dead animals and human trash. They rarely occur far inland and often breed in mixed colonies including other gulls, eiders, geese, or cliff nesting seabirds. Glaucous Gulls can live for over 20 years and the North American breeding population is estimated at close to one million birds [3].

Black-legged Kittiwake

The Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) occurs mostly at sea, except during the breeding season, along both North American coasts, in the Pacific from Alaska to Mexico and in the Atlantic from Labrador to Florida. They breed and occur year-round in the northern portion of their range. They nest in very large colonies, consisting of hundreds of thousands of birds, on steep cliffs along offshore islands or the coastal mainland. They are a medium-sized gull, weighing between 365 and 400 g, and are most closely related to other species of kittiwake and Sabine’s and Ivory Gulls. They have a white head, neck, and underparts, gray wings with black and white tips, a slightly forked tail, a thin uniformly pale yellow bill, dark eyes, legs, and feet [4]. 

Mew Gull

The Mew Gull (Larus canus) occurs along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to Mexico, but also throughout most of Alaska and northwestern Canada during the summer breeding season. They are a small gull, weighing between 360 and 415 g, and are most closely related to the Ring-billed Gull. They have a white head, neck, and underparts, a small yellowish bill with no red spot, gray wings with black and white tips, and greenish yellow legs and feet. They form monogamous pairs maintained for many years and breed either in large colonies or as solitary pairs [5].

Ross’s Gull and Ivory Gull

Ross’s Gulls (Rhodostethia rosea) and Ivory Gulls (Pagophila eburnea) occur along the northernmost waters of North America, mainly in the high Arctic. In Canada, Ross’s Gull is considered threatened, while the Ivory Gull is considered endangered, both with only small populations scattered across the Canadian Arctic. The Ross’s Gull is small, weighing less than 250 g, and has a white head with a black collar and bill, pale gray upperparts, pinkinsh white underparts, and reddish legs and feet, while the Ivory Gull is twice as large, weighing between 450 and 690 g and is completely white, except for their yellow-tipped dark bill and their black eyes, legs, and feet [6, 7].

Ring-billed Gull

The Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) occurs mainly inland during the summer breeding season, throughout southern Canada and northern United States, and overwinters along both coasts and in southeastern United States. They are a medium-sized gull, weighing between 300 and 700 g, and are most closely related to the Mew Gull. They have a white head, neck, and underparts, gray wing with black and white tips, a yellow bill with a black band close to the tip, and yellow eyes, legs, and feet [8].

Sabine’s Gull

Sabine’s Gulls (Larus sabini) breed in the coastal Arctic, from western Alaska to the Hudson Bay, and overwinters in the subtropics and tropics. They are a small gull, weighing between 160 and 210 g, and are most closely related to the Ivory Gull. They have a black head, a black bill with a yellow tip, gray wings with black and white tips, and a forked tail. They either nest in solitary pairs or in small, loose colonies and their North American breeding population seems relatively stable [9].


1.         Harrison CJO: Bird families of the world. Oxford, England: Elsevier-Phaidon; 1978.

2.         Pierotti RJ, Good TP: Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1994.

3.         Gilchrist HG: Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2001.

4.         Hatch SA, Robertson GJ, Herron Baird P: Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2009.

5.         Moskoff W, Bevier LR: Mew Gull (Larus canus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.

6.         COSEWIC: COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea) in Canada. In. Ottawa: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada; 2006: 42.

7.         COSEWIC: COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the Ross's gull (Rhodostethia rosea) in Canada. In. Ottawa: Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada; 2007: 24.

8.         Ryder JP: Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1993.

9.       Day RH, Stenhouse IJ, Gilchrist HG: Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2001.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Herring Gull
© djpmapleferryman
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: djpmapleferryman
Glaucous Gull
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Sowls, Art
Black-legged Kittiwake
© Caleb Slemmons
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: Caleb Slemmons
Mew Gull
© Kari Pihlaviita
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: Kari Pihlaviita
Ross's Gull
© Greg Lasley
Creator: Greg Lasley

This map is based on occurrence records available through the GBIF network

Ivory Gull
© Mark Rosenstein
Creator: Mark Rosenstein
Ring-billed Gull
© WoRMS Editorial Board
Supplier: World Register of Marine Species
Creator: Chardine, John
Sabine's Gull
© BJ Stacey
Publisher: Flickr
Creator: BJ Stacey


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