information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.
Only coastal and marine records shown



Larus marinus is the largest black-backed gull reaching lengths of up to 75 cm and wing span of up to 1.66 m. The body is bulky with a thick neck and heavy bill. Adult plumage is white, there is a dark grey mantle across the back and the top of the wings, with a trailing white edged and large mirrors (white patches on the wing tips). The bill is yellow with a red patch on the lower tip of the bill (gonys). The legs are a fleshy pink. Immatures display different markings at each age group, from first to third winters. Most first and second winter birds lack black on upperparts, with barred grey brown backs and wings and a black bill. Black upperparts develop gradually and the yellow bill is not fully apparent until maturity.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Found all around the UK coastline during the breeding season and also inland at other times of the year.

Global distribution



The great black-backed gull principally frequents rocky coasts and islands during the breeding season but is widespread in inland areas during the winter months. It may then be seen congregating at inland reservoirs, rubbish tips and nearby fields.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Large size.
  • Dark grey mantle.
  • Yellow bill with a red patch on gonys of adults.
  • Pink legs.

Additional information

Larus marinus is a scavenger and may eat birds, eggs, fish, offal, dead animals or rubbish. Please note that distribution maps are compiled using records for both breeding and wintering populations. For more specific distribution and abundance records please refer to maps compiled by The British Trust for Ornithology, available at

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Further information sources

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    This review can be cited as:

    Sweet, N. A. 2008. Larus marinus Great black-backed gull. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 21-08-2018]. Available from:

    Last Updated: 13/10/2008