Birds: Great Black-backed Gull

Droimneach mór, Larus marinus: Often reaching a length of over 75cm, the Great Black-backed Gull, is the largest gull species in Ireland and, for that matter, the world. It is a common year-round resident here, though it is strictly confined to coastal areas. Unlike many of our other common gull species, it never occurs more than a few miles inland.

In addition to its huge size, the Great Black-backed Gull is easily identified in adult plumage by its unique combination of pinkish legs and black wings and back; the smaller Lesser Black-backed Gull actually has dark grey, rather than black, wings and bright yellow legs. Youngsters in their first year of life look very different, being mottled greyish-brown overall, but can still be identified by their massive black bills and overall bulk. They take five years to attain full adult plumage, but by their second year some of the black back feathers are already present, making identification more straightforward.

Powerful and aggressive, Great Black-backed Gulls are usually dominant over other gull species, and often steal food from them. They mostly scavenge carrion, rubbish, eggs and other easy meals, but can be highly predatory when they need to be, catching fish and killing creatures such as Puffins – which they can swallow whole – ducks and rabbits. They are generally very wary of humans, however, and only pose a threat to people who are unwise enough, to venture too close to their chicks or eggs; the resulting peck on the head can be extremely painful and usually draws blood. Luckily, nesting is usually confined to rocky offshore islands, making such encounters rare.

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