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Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus

This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

Taxonomic note
Larus cachinnans (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993) has been split into L. cachinnans and L. michahellis; L. armenicus (Sibley and Monroe 1990, 1993; AERC TAC) has been lumped into L. michahellis. These changes to the BirdLife checklist follow examination by the BirdLife Taxonomic Working Group (BTWG) of a recent review of large white-headed gulls in the Holarctic by Collinson et al. (2008) and associated literature referred to therein. The following species level treatment, shown with subspecific placements, has been adopted by the BTWG: L. fuscus (with intermedius, graellsii, heuglini, taimyrensis and barabensis); L. argentatus (with argenteus, smithsonianus, vegae and mongolicus); L. michahellis (with atlantis and armenicus) and L. cachinnans. This treatment is based on evidence of sympatry, and morphological and behavioural differences, but rejects further splits derived from phylogentic analyses based on mtDNA because Collinson et al. (2008) admit that (1) mtDNA lineages can disappear by random events, resulting in misplacements and displacements in phylogenies, and (2) hybridisation, which seems very widespread in these white-headed gulls, can result in "adoption" of mtDNA sequences by another taxon, completely obscuring the real situation. Collinson et al. (2008) explicitly state "these complications do not just make gull phylogenies difficult: they may cause entirely false conclusions to be drawn about species boundaries… it must be recognised that splits or lumps based solely on mtDNA cannot be regarded as robust". While proposed splits not adopted here are not based solely on mtDNA, the morphological evidence presented is not conclusive, taxa are only diagnosable in some cases and there is hybridisation between them.

Distribution and population
The Lesser Black-backed Gull breeds from the central-north of Russia, around Scandinavia, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and northern United Kingdom to Iceland. It also breeds year-round on the coast of Portugal, southern Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, and one seasonally breeding population is found in north-east Spain. Seasonal breeders disperse widely, expanding its range to include the entire North Sea coast, much of the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian Sea coasts, the northern and eastern coasts of Africa (including rivers inland), and around the Arabian Peninsula to north-west India1.

Trend justification
The overall population trend is increasing, although some populations are decreasing (Wetlands International 2006). The population trend is increasing in North America (based on BBS/CBC data: Butcher and Niven 2007).

Behaviour Most populations of this species are fully migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and travel in leapfrog-like stages (del Hoyo et al. 1996), using many stopovers en-route (Olsen and Larsson 2003). The Autumn migration is started by the non-breeding birds in late-June, the breeding birds following from late-July to September (Olsen and Larsson 2003). The return migration takes place between February and late-June (del Hoyo et al. 1996), with the species arriving at breeding colonies from March onwards, and breeding from May or late-April to mid-June (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It breeds colonially (Richards 1990, Mitchell et al. 2004), often with other gull species (especially Herring Gull Larus argentatus) (Mitchell et al. 2004), in colonies ranging in size from a few pairs (Snow and Perrins 1998) to several tens of thousands (Richards 1990). Outside of the breeding season the species remains gregarious, normally migrating singly or in small groups of less than 10 (Urban et al. 1986), and often feeding in flocks of hundreds of individuals on rubbish dumps or over shoals of fish at sea (Urban et al. 1986, Snow and Perrins 1998). It may also feed singly or in small groups (Urban et al. 1986). In its African wintering grounds the species may roost communally during the day on salt or fresh waterbodies (Urban et al. 1986, Bustnes et al. 2006). Habitat Breeding The species breeds on coastal grassy slopes (flat and unbroken) (Richards 1990), sand-dunes (Richards 1990, Mitchell et al. 2004), cliffs (Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Mitchell et al. 2004), rocky offshore islands (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Mitchell et al. 2004), saltmarshes (Mitchell et al. 2004), and on inland habitats such as the margins of lakes (Richards 1990, Olsen and Larsson 2003), high moorland (Richards 1990, Mitchell et al. 2004), and islands in lakes and rivers (Olsen and Larsson 2003) . It shows a preference for well vegetated sites, with fairly close, short vegetation (Richards 1990, Snow and Perrins 1998), and may forage on arable land, pasture land (Richards 1990), and on refuse dumps (Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996). Non-breeding Outside of the breeding season the species chiefly inhabits inshore and offshore seas (Snow and Perrins 1998), as well as lagoons, estuaries, harbours and seashores in the tropics (Snow and Perrins 1998). It may also frequent inland habitats during this season, such as large lakes and rivers (Urban et al. 1986), in England preferring flooded gravel pits and reservoirs, canals, river weirs, flood-lands and sewage treatment areas (Snow and Perrins 1998). As in the breeding season it is often seen foraging on arable land, pasture land (Richards 1990), and on refuse dumps (Richards 1990, del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet The species is an omnivorous, opportunistic feeder (BirdLife International 2000) that forages extensively at sea. Its diet consists of small fish (especially Baltic herring Clupea harengus) (del Hoyo et al. 1996), aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates (e.g. beetles, flies and larvae, ants, moths (Urban et al. 1986), grasshoppers (Olsen and Larsson 2003), crustaceans, molluscs, segmented worms and starfish (Urban et al. 1986)), bird eggs and nestlings, carrion, offal (del Hoyo et al. 1996), rodents, berries (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and grain (Urban et al. 1986). It often follows fishing fleets, feeding on discarded bycatch (BirdLife International 2000). Breeding site The nest can be anything between a heap of grass, seaweed (Richards 1990), lichen, feathers (or other local materials) (del Hoyo et al. 1996), and a simple sparsely-lined scrape (Richards 1990), that is usually positioned on open ground on a flat rock or a bare peat hag (Mitchell et al. 2004). The species breeds in colonies, showing a preference for level-ground (Hume and Pearson 1993, del Hoyo et al. 1996) that is well covered with fairly close, short vegetation (Snow and Perrins 1998, Mitchell et al. 2004), often nesting under heather, bracken or other vegetation (Richards 1990) (sometimes under pine trees) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Suitable sites include flat, unbroken grassy slopes (Richards 1990), sand-dunes,the tops and ledges of coastal cliffs (Richards 1990, Mitchell et al. 2004), rocky offshore islands (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Mitchell et al. 2004), saltmarshes (Mitchell et al. 2004), the margins of inland lakes (Richards 1990, Olsen and Larsson 2003), islands in lakes and rivers (Olsen and Larsson 2003), and high moorland (Richards 1990, Mitchell et al. 2004), although the species will also nest on buildings and rooftops (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

Some populations of this species have significantly declined due to decreasing food availability caused by competition and predation from Larus argentatus and Larus marinus (Barcena et al. 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Olsen and Larsson 2003) and by changes in fishing and refuse disposal practices (Olsen and Larsson 2003, Mitchell et al. 2004) (e.g. closure of landfill sites and the covering of waste) (Barcena et al. 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1996, Olsen and Larsson 2003, Mitchell et al. 2004). Population declines may also have been aided by poisoning from organochloride pollution (Bustnes et al. 2006). Contamination from pesticides is no longer considered a likely threat (I. C. T. Nisbet in litt. 2010). Colonies have been culled in Britain and Ireland in order to protect other breeding seabirds (e.g. terns) from predation and competition (Mitchell et al. 2004). The species is exploited on its African wintering grounds (del Hoyo et al. 1996), is hunted unsustainably in Denmark (Bregnballe et al. 2006), and is threatened by egg-collecting and general human disturbance on the Iberian Peninsula (Barcena et al. 1984). Human disturbance occurs at wintering sites, caused by local people checking snare traps set to catch other species (Hario 2006). The species is susceptible to avian botulism, so may be threatened by future outbreaks of this disease (Mitchell et al. 2004).

Barcena, F.; Teixeira, A. M., Bermejo, A. 1984. Breeding seabird populations in the Atlantic sector of the Iberian Peninsula. In: Croxall, J. P.; Evans, P. G. H., Schreiber, R. W. (ed.), Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds, pp. 335-345. International Council for Bird Preservation.

BirdLife International. 2000. The Development of Boundary Selection Criteria for the Extension of Breeding Seabird Special Protection Areas into the Marine Environment. OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic. Vlissingen (Flushing).

Bregnballe, T., Noer, H., Christensen, T.K., Clausen, P., Asferg, T., Fox, A.D. and Delany, S. 2006. Sustainable hunting of migratory waterbirds: the Danish approach. In: G. Boere, C. Galbraith, and D. Stroud (eds), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 854-860. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Bustnes, J. O. 2006. Environmental pollutants in endangered vs. increasing subspecies of the lesser black-backed gull on the Norwegian Coast. Environmental Pollution 144: 893-901.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Hario, M. 2006. Diurnal attendance of nominate Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus f. fuscus at a Ugandan lake: implications for the conservation of a globally threatened subspecies. Bird Conservation International 16: 293-297.

Hume, R.; Pearson, B. 1993. Seabirds. Hamlyn, London.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Mitchell, P. I.; Newton, S. F.; Ratcliffe, N.; Dunn, T.E. 2004. Seabird populations of Britain and Ireland. Christopher Helm, London.

Olsen, K. M.; Larsson, H. 2004. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Christopher Helm, London.

Richards, A. 1990. Seabirds of the northern hemisphere. Dragon's World Ltd, Limpsfield, U.K.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Urban, E.K., Fry, C.H. and Keith, S. 1986. The Birds of Africa, Volume II. Academic Press, London.

Vahatalo, A. V.; Rainio, K.; Lehikoinen, A.; Lehikoinen, E. 2004. Spring arrival of birds depends on the North Atlantic Oscillation. Journal of Avian Biology 35: 210-216.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L. & Taylor, J.

Nisbet, I.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Larus fuscus. Downloaded from on 05/05/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 05/05/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Lesser black-backed gull (Larus fuscus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Laridae (Gulls, Terns, Skimmers)
Species name author Linnaeus, 1758
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 736,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment