gull, common name for an aquatic bird of the family Laridae, which also includes the tern and the jaeger. It is found near all oceans and many inland waters. Gulls are larger and bulkier than terns, and their tails are squared rather than forked. Their plumage is usually white with gray or black markings on the back, wings, and head. Their long, narrow wings are adapted to soaring and their webbed feet to swimming. They have strong bills, hooked at the end; they eat clams and fish and sometimes insects, but are most useful as scavengers in harbors and bays. They are often seen hovering over the wakes of ships, seeking refuse, and frequenting garbage dumps. The common gull—called sea gull in North America—is the herring gull Larus argentatus smithsonianus, a subspecies of the common European gull L. argentatus. It is found on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and on the Great Lakes. The larger great black-backed gull, L. marinus, is more northern; the ring-billed, Bonaparte's, and laughing gull are smaller. The Franklin's gull of the Great Plains is called the “prairie dove.” The California and western gulls are common on the Pacific coast. The kittiwake is a small oceanic gull of the genus Rissa, seldom seen on land. The lesser black-backed and little gulls are European. Gulls are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Charadriiformes, family Laridae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Vertebrate Zoology