Ring-billed Gull

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Ring-billed Gull

Larus delawarensis

Last updated: May 27, 2022
Verified by: IMP
Image Credit iStock.com/PaulReevesPhotography

The ring-billed gull feeds on vast quantities of human waste and garbage.

Ring-billed Gull Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Larus delawarensis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Ring-billed Gull Conservation Status

Ring-billed Gull Locations

Ring-billed Gull Locations

Ring-billed Gull Facts

Fish, rodents, grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, worms, insects, and garbage
Fun Fact
The ring-billed gull feeds on vast quantities of human waste and garbage.
Estimated Population Size
3-4 million
Biggest Threat
Human persecution and pesticide use
Most Distinctive Feature
The black ring on its beak
Incubation Period
23-28 days
Rivers, lakes, and coasts
Red foxes, raccoons, weasels, minks, owls, ravens, and other gulls
Common Name
Ring-billed gull
Number Of Species
North America and Central America
Nesting Location
on the ground
Age of Molting
5-6 weeks

Ring-billed Gull Physical Characteristics

  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
Top Speed
28 mph
Up to 23 years

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The ring-billed gull is among the most common gulls in all of North America.

Often found congregating near parking lots, restaurants, and landfills, this peculiar bird will do just about anything for an easy meal. It is brave and audacious enough to steal food from other birds as well directly from the hands of people. For this reason, some people consider them to be an annoying pest. This article will cover some interesting facts about the identification, distribution, reproduction, and lifespan of the ring-billed gull.

3 Ring-billed Gull Amazing Facts

  • The ring-billed gull has been known to engage in playtime. One of the most amazing facts is that it will drop an object in the air and then fly down to catch it again just for entertainment.
  • Most gulls will return to the colony where they were originally born to create their own nests.
  • The identification of the eggs can be a little tricky, but they appear to be pale olive gray with brown speckles.

Where to Find the Ring-billed Gull

The ring-billed gull can be found congregating near lakes, rivers, piers, and coasts all throughout North America. It actually prefers freshwater habitats over saltwater habitats. This species is particularly common near cities, landfills, and farms. Some of the countries or territories found within its wide distribution include:

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Ring-billed Gull Nests

The ring-billed gull chooses a nesting site on the ground or near the water with sparse vegetation. Some of their favorite sites include sandbars, driftwood, rocky beaches, concrete, or open soil, usually with a plant to hide under from dangerous predators. The nest is constructed by both parents out of twigs, grasses, and moss, which form a small cup. A single nest may be used by the pair for multiple seasons before a new one is created.

Ring-billed Gull Scientific Name

The scientific name of the ring-billed gull is Larus delawarensis. Larus is the Latin name for a seagull and other large seabirds. Delawarensis is the Latin form of Delaware (because it’s particularly common along the Delaware River). Some of the most closely related species include the common gull, the California gull, the European herring gull, and the American herring gull.

Ring-billed Gull Size, Appearance, and Behavior

The ring-billed gull appears much like any other type of gull. Measuring up to 21 inches long from head to tail, it is characterized by white plumage on the head and stomach, gray plumage on the back, black wingtips (sometimes accompanied by white spots), and a yellow beak and legs. The main means of identification is the black ring near the tip of the beak. In contrast to the adults, the immature gull looks altogether different. It is characterized by white plumage with brown spots or flecks throughout its body; both the wingtips and tail are very dark. As the immature birds enter their second year, they begin to look more like their adult forms. This species is most often confused with the herring gull, which has a larger bill without the well-defined ring.

two ring-billed gulls on a rock
Ring-billed gulls are listed on the IUCN Red List as “Least Concern.”

iStock.com/Carol Hamilton

The ring-billed gull is a highly social bird that spends a lot of its time living in vast colonies. A single colony may contain anywhere between just 20 pairs and many thousands of pairs at a time. In order to communicate, this species has two alarm calls to alert nearby colony members to the presence of nearby predators. It also uses a mew call to signal unaggressive behavior such as courtship feeding. When threatened, the gull will lower its head near the feet and toss it backward while emitting a long and loud call. When signaling submission, it will draw its head back into its shoulders and emit a series of shorter, high-pitched calls.

Ring-billed Gull Migration Pattern and Timing

The ring-billed gull migrates in flocks for the winter. These flocks follow the coastline or river south. They can migrate all the way down to the Caribbean islands and Central America.

Ring-billed Gull Diet

The ring-billed gull is known as an opportunistic forager. It will consume almost anything it can find and even steal food from other animals. This bird will soar above the air, wade in the water, or search the ground for a morsel of food. It often spends a great deal of time searching through garbage dumps and landfills for refuse left behind by humans.

What does the ring-billed gull eat?

The diet of the ring-billed gull consists of fish, rodents, insects, worms, grains, seeds, nuts, fruits, and garbage. It has the ability to digest almost anything.

Ring-billed Gull Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, the ring-billed gull is considered to be a species of least concern. Numbers fell dramatically in the 19th century due to human persecution. It’s also thought to be susceptible to pesticide use. However, the species has recovered strongly since during the course of the 20th century. It is currently protected by the US Migratory Bird Act.

What eats the ring-billed gull?

Adults, juveniles, and eggs may be preyed upon by red foxes, raccoons, weasels, minks, owls, ravens, and other gulls. Groups of gulls will make alarm calls and panic flights when a potential predator is near. They will then will mob them or swoop down on them to scare away the predator.

Ring-billed Gull Reproduction, Young, and Molting

The ring-billed gull usually breeds between May and August. When the breeding season arrives, the birds form large colonies near a source of water and then begin to put on a courtship display. After a mate is chosen, the female will lay a clutch of anywhere between one and four eggs at a time. These birds are mostly monogamous. However, sometimes females will share a nest and together produce up to eight eggs between them.

The incubation period lasts anywhere between 23 and 28 days at a time. After the eggs hatch, both parents play a vital role in feeding the vulnerable young. The juveniles may begin to leave the nest by the second day, but it usually takes more than five weeks before they gain their flight feathers and become fully independent. The typical lifespan is thought to be three to 10 years in the wild. However, one specimen was recorded to survive some 23 years.

Ring-billed Gull Population

Populations were estimated to be around 3 to 4 million by 1990, and numbers have continued to increase in recent years.

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Ring-billed Gull FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the ring-billed gull migrate?

Yes, it migrates south for the winter every year.

How many eggs does the ring-billed gull lay?

A single female can lay up to four eggs per clutch.

How fast does the ring-billed gull fly?

The ring-billed gull can fly at speeds up to 28 miles per hour.

What is the ring-billed gull’s wingspan?

The ring-billed gull has a wingspan of up to 46 inches long. That’s nearly 4 feet.

When do ring-billed gulls leave the nest?

The immature juvenile chicks leave the nest starting around five or six weeks.

Are ring-billed gulls rare?

No, they are very common all throughout temperate North America.

Where do ring-billed gulls live?

Their distribution occurs around rivers, lakes, and coasts in North America. They can be found living as far north as Calgary and Manitoba in the summer months.

Is the ring-billed gull endangered?

The ring-billed gull became endangered in the 19th century, but numbers have recovered sufficiently so that it’s no longer threatened.

How long do ring-billed seagulls live?

The ring-billed seagull has a lifespan of 23 years in the wild.

  1. Audubon, Available here: https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/ring-billed-gull
  2. Animal Diversity, Available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Larus_delawarensis/
  3. All About Birds, Available here: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ring-billed_Gull/lifehistory

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