Larus argentatus

Status: Common, locally abundant, regular spring migrant statewide. Uncommon regular summer visitor Lake McConaughy, rare casual elsewhere. Common regular fall migrant statewide. Locally common regular winter visitor statewide.

DocumentationSpecimen: UNK mount, 8 Oct 1917 Kearney, Buffalo Co.

TaxonomyTraditionally, four subspecies had been recognized in the Herring Gull complex (Pyle 2008), but more recently these have been re-arranged by current authors (Olsen and Larsson 2004, Gill and Donsker 2017) into three full species based on Sangster et al (2005): European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), with subspecies L. a. argenteus and L. a. argentatus, Vega Gull (L. vegae), and American Herring Gull (L. smithsonianus). Genetic studies have shown that American and European Herring Gulls are “quite distinct”, and that more than one subspecies may be included within smithsonianus (Howell and Dunn 2007). Nevertheless, these changes have not as of 2017 been adopted by the American Ornithological Society.

Both Vega and European Herring Gulls have been reported in the contiguous United States on multiple occasions.  However, distinguishing either of these subspecies from American Herring Gulls is difficult (Howell and Dunn 2007).

See Glaucous-winged Gull account for discussion of hybrids between American Herring Gull and that species.

Springwinter <<<>>> May 19, 21, 21

Later dates are (ages unspecified) 25 May 2013 Knox Co, 27 May 2016 Lake McConaughy, 27 May 2017 Lake McConaughy, 30  May 2013 Platte Co, 30 May 2019 Lake McConaughy, and 9 Jun 2001 Lake McConaughy.

Numbers increase at wintering sites by early to mid-Feb and individuals appear at other sites in late Feb as water begins to open up, although the progression of migration is influenced by the severity of weather during late winter. Most Herring Gulls move through the state during late Feb and early Mar, with declining numbers into the first half of Apr. From late Apr, virtually all reports are of sub-adults; last dates for adults are 30 Apr 2000 at Harvard WPA, Phelps Co, 10 May 2000 at Sutherland Reservoir, Lincoln Co, 13 May 2004 at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co, and 19 May 2014 at Lake McConaughy. A third-cycle immature was at Lakes Babcock and North, Platte Co 28 May 2013.

  • High counts2000 at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 1 Mar 2009, 1302 at Lake McConaughy 9 Mar 2001, 1000 there 21 Feb 1994, and 1000 estimated flying over Omaha, Douglas Co 23 Mar 2006.

SummerHerring Gulls are generally rare in summer; there are only about 34 records of immatures statewide Jun through mid-Sep, most of these at Lake McConaughy. There are only five records of adults during Jun-Jul all at Lake McConaughy: 19 Jun 2004, two on 21 Jun 2005, and singles 27 Jul 2012, 30 Jul 2006, and 31 Jul 2007. An age class breakdown for Jun-Jul 2001 at Lake McConaughy was one fresh juvenile (on 28 Jul), four first alternate, two second alternate, and two third alternate (Stephen J. Dinsmore, pers. comm.); the total of eight immatures was an unusually large number for the time of year.

FallSep 5, 6, 7 <<<>>> winter

Earlier dates are 10 Aug 2018 Scotts Bluff Co, 11 Aug 2006 Lake McConaughy, 13 Aug 2017 Cedar Co, 17 Aug 2017 Lincoln Co, 24 Aug 2014 three Garfield Co, 29 Aug 2014 Lancaster Co, 1 Sep 2020 Scotts Bluff Co, and 3 Sep 2020 Lake McConaughy.

Migrants, usually immatures, are detectable in mid-Sep, but numbers are low until Oct, with numbers building in Nov and large concentrations not seen until Dec, when peak counts occur. Juveniles may depart breeding colonies as early as mid-Jul (Nisbet et al 2020); a fresh juvenile was at Lake McConaughy 28 Jul 2001.

Earliest fall dates for adults, probably failed breeders, are 27 Aug 2006 three Lake McConaughy, 29 Aug 2014 Lancaster Co, 1 Sep 2020 Scotts Bluff Co, 3 Sep 2020 Lake McConaughy, 5 Sep 2018 Lake McConaughy, 6 Sep 2014 Lake McConaughy, and 7-9 Sep 2019 Lake McConaughy.

  • High counts540 at Sutherland Reservoir, Lincoln Co 30 Dec 2007, 446 at Harlan Co Reservoir, Harlan Co 15 Dec 1996, and 416 at Lake McConaughy 23 Dec 1994.

WinterNumbers of Herring Gulls wintering in Nebraska are highly variable and are dictated by the severity of the winter.  Numbers continue building into Dec and can continue to increase into mid-winter given favorable conditions; highest counts for the year sometimes occur mid-Jan through early Feb.

  • High counts1500 at Lake McConaughy 15 Jan 1998, 1100 there 6 Feb 1999, and 770 there 9 Dec 2020.


UNK: University of Nebraska- Kearney
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)


Photograph (top) of a Herring Gull at Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co 19 Mar 2015 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.

Howell, S.N.G., and J. Dunn. 2007. Gulls of the Americas. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, New York, USA.

Nisbet, I.C.T., D.V. Weseloh, C.E. Hebert, M.L. Mallory, A.F. Poole, J.C. Ellis, P. Pyle, and M.A. Patten. 2020. Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.hergul.01.

Olsen, K.M., and H. Larsson. 2004. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

Pyle, P. 2008. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part II, Anatidae to Alcidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Sangster, G., J.M. Collinson, A.J. Helbig, A.G. Knox, and D.T. Parkin. 2005. Taxonomic recommendations for British birds: third report. Ibis: 147: 821–826.

Recommended Citation:

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2021. American Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 14 Mar 2021