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The quintessential ‘seagull’, the herring gull (Larus argentatus) is perhaps the most familiar seabird in the Northern Hemisphere. Yet, distinguishing this species from a number of other gull species is somewhat challenging. Like many other gulls, it has an all-white head and neck, with a pale grey back and grey upperwings; however, it is the only gull with pink legs and black wing-tips with white spots (known as ‘mirrors’). It may also be identified by its heavy, slightly hooked bill with bold red tip. Outside of the breeding season, the adult herring gull’s white head and neck becomes streaked with brown, and the bill and the orange ring around the eyes fade in colour. Juvenille herring gulls are mottled dark greyish-brown, and they undergo seven changes in plumage before adulthood. The herring gull is a large, heavy-bodied gull with fully-webbed feet and a flattened forehead that gives it a ‘mean’ appearance. It is an extremely noisy bird and a number of vocalizations are produced, including the well-known raucous ‘laughing’ call. A familiar sight in seaside towns, the herring gull is versatile and opportunistic, exploiting almost any available food source. Although adept at catching its own prey, the herring gull will also regularly scavenge or pirate food from other seabirds. When forced to drink saltwater, the herring gull is able to expel excess salt from its body through specialised glands above the eyes. Herring gulls can live for up to 32 years.

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