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seagull on a rock

Despite their misnomer of a name, seagulls can actually live anywhere they can access protein-rich food and water. Most gulls are seasonal migrators, flying north to breed in the summer and south to stay warm in winter. Many gull species overwinter all over the US… even in the landlocked states!

The seagulls near you don’t need to live near salt water at all. As long as they can stay hydrated, it doesn’t matter where that water comes from. In the meantime, they can also help themselves to garbage and other accessible food. Believe it or not, seagulls aren’t particularly unusual or uncommon pest birds all over the US! Here’s what you should know about the gulls near you, and what you can do about them:

What are gulls?

Did you know that there’s actually no such thing as a “sea” gull? What we call seagulls are actually several different species of the Laridae family of gulls. There are over 35 species of seagull, many of which are actually native to the American midwest or heartland. The four most common seagulls in the central and eastern US are the:

  • American Herring gulls (Larus argentatus), which is the most common and widespread gull in North America. American Herring gulls are around 22 to 25” long and 1 to 2 pounds. They have white plumage with a grey mantle (back wings), black-tipped wings, and yellow beaks.
  • Ring-billed gulls (Larus dealwarensis) are highly social birds that nest in colonies near likely food sources. They’re around 17 to 21” long and weigh about a pound. Ring-billed gulls look very similar to American herring gulls, but their black ring-tips have white spots. The name “ring-billed” refers to the fact that these seagulls have a black ring marking around their yellow beaks.
  • Bonaparte’s gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia) are small gulls that hunt insects and regularly nest in trees. They’re 11” long and weigh around half a pound. Breeding adult Bonaparte’s gulls have distinctive black heads, while non-breeding seagulls are mostly white. Bonaparte’s gulls also have bright orange legs.
  • Great black-backed gulls (Larus marinus) are the largest species of gull in the world. They’re 27 to 31” long with a 60” wingspan, and they weigh 2 to 4 pounds. They have white plumage but dark black wings (hence their names) with white-spotted tips. Adults have a large red spot near the tip of their beaks. 

Why are they here?

Gull’s home range varies based on species and time of year. Groups of seagulls establish breeding nests together and return to those same sites every year. Starting in mid-spring when temperatures rise, they begin to fly north to the colony nest site they use every year. Herring and Bonaparte’s gulls generally breed in Canada, while Ring-billed gulls may breed in the Northern US. Great black-backed gulls breed on the east coast.

Seagulls spend summer in their home breeding ranges up north. You may encounter them on their way north in spring, when they take a break from migration to find food. They begin migrating from their breeding sites back to their overwinter sites starting in late summer or early fall. Gulls will spend the winter in any part of the US warm enough to avoid freezing temperatures. They’re common in the Southeast US, but you might see them nearly anywhere on warm enough days.

Seagull on a rocky shoreline preparing to fly

What do they want?

Other than warmth, shelter, and a place to nest, seagulls need food and water. Many seagulls live near the ocean because, unlike most birds, they can hydrate by drinking seawater. Specialized glands located above their eyes allow them to excrete excess salt from their bodies quickly. Just because they can drink seawater doesn’t mean they have to, however. In fact, gulls prefer fresh water to seawater. They often live near sources of fresh water such as lakes and rivers. 

Gulls are opportunistic, foraging omnivores. They feed on a wide-variety of insects, fish, invertebrates, eggs, nuts, seeds, and garbage. They require a lot of energy to migrate, build nests, and mate, so they’re constantly looking for food. Most gulls prefer protein-rich, high-energy food sources such as meat, especially when they’re migrating. If they can access protein-rich food consistently, they’ll flock to it in great numbers. Gulls are a common garbage or restaurant pest for that exact reason.

How can you keep them away?

If gulls bother you constantly, it’s because they’re finding good food nearby. Gulls are notorious for feeding on garbage. They can get into open dumpsters or scavenge loose garbage near bins and cans. The best way to keep gulls away is to keep them out of your garbage. Store garbage in sealed plastic bags, and never leave those bags sitting out in the open. Tie down the lids of your bins and cans when you aren’t using them.

Gulls may also temporarily rest on or near your structure, particularly if you’re close to water. They prefer to perch on ledges in nooks and crannies around rooftops, windows, and siding. You can keep gulls off of your building by installing simple deterrents and restricting access to exterior openings. They also like foraging for food in naturally covered, sheltered areas where they can stay hidden. If you can reduce sources of natural cover like tall grass, gulls will be less comfortable gathering near you.


These tips will help prevent migrating seagulls from making a pitstop near you, but nesting birds are another story. Nesting colonies return to the same breeding site every year, and they’re tough to dissuade without help. Luckily, you have help.

If you think gulls are breeding near you, get in touch with Varment Guard right away. We can quickly, humanely, and effectively remove nests and make sure gulls don’t return next breeding season. If you’ve got a gull problem, Varment Guard is your solution.


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