Seagulls - which are really just gulls - are some of the world's hardiest and most successful birds. Gulls inhabit pretty much every corner of the globe and thrive in cities, towns and urban areas. Despite having a reputation for being fierce, aggressive and bloodthirsty, gulls are misunderstood and are incredibly intelligent. Here, we’re going to answer the question; how long do seagulls live?
Gulls are tough birds, and they have a long lifespan to match. For example, the European Herring gull often lives for 20 years, but many have been recorded live until they’re 30 or more. Similar lifespans are observed across all other species of gulls - most wild gulls live for around 8 to 20 years at least.
The maximum recorded age of many species of gulls is above 30 years. Even the Little gull, one of the smallest of the gull family, can live for around 15 years or more. Gulls have slow lifecycles, and many won’t breed until they’re at least 3 or 4 years old. Their long lifespan is probably owed to the fact that many gulls have few natural predators once they reach adulthood.
Read on to learn more about the lifespan of these super-tough and often-misunderstood birds!
Most species of gulls live anywhere from eight years, all the way up to over 20 years
Seagulls are long-lived, and their average lifespan generally spans from 8 to 20 years, though many live for longer.
Once they reach adulthood, Herring gulls have a year-on-year survival rate of some 90%, which is high. That means adult gulls are quite likely to see out their average lifespan before dying from natural causes.
Most gulls live for at least 8 years, but the maximum ages of various species of goals range well into the 30s:
The oldest recorded seagull, was a Herring Gull at 49 years of age!
Most gulls die through natural causes during old age, such as fatigue and exhaustion.
Gulls are alert and resilient birds, and once they reach adulthood, death by predation is quite unlikely. Gulls form large protective flocks and are known for hounding larger predatorial birds, essentially putting them off the hunt and sending them on their way!
However, baby seagulls are quite vulnerable until they grow into juveniles and face risks from foxes, racoons, petrels, skewers, mink and cats.
In terms of diseases, gulls do suffer from bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, and since they migrate thousands of miles, they often accelerate the transmission of avian disease between continents. In fact, seagulls can even transmit disease into human food and water supplies.
In 2016, National Geographic published an article warning of how gulls carry highly drug-resistant forms of E. Coli from one region to another.
Juvenile Glaucous gull standing on a rock in the water
Gulls have long lifecycles and typically don’t breed until they’re between 2 and 4. Larger species of gulls won’t reach full sexual maturity until they’re 4 and spend much of their juvenile years roaming at sea until they find somewhere to settle down and find a mate, then typically mating for life.
Moreover, juvenile gulls can stay with their parents for months after fledging and are sometimes unwilling to leave the family unit until the winter or early spring following the breeding season.
Ring-billed gull in flight
Gulls have few natural predators and are strong, alert, intelligent and aggressive. They form large flocks and have defensive behaviours which help them ward off avian predators like eagles, skewers and giant petrels.
However, on the sea, gulls can prove vulnerable. Some of their main predators include sharks, seals and other large marine carnivores. Gulls are most likely to be caught when bobbing around in shallow waters.
Baby gulls are pretty vulnerable for their first year, and as few as 25% to 50% will survive until their first birthday. Once baby gulls fledge, they tend to wander from their parents, and this is when they’re most vulnerable. Baby gulls may appear ‘lost’, but their parents are likely watching, so if you see a baby gull that seems somewhat abandoned, then think twice about moving it!
Once gulls reach the age of 1, their year-on-year survival rate increases dramatically. Studies generally show that adult gulls have an above-80% year-on-year survival rate (95%) in some larger gull species.
Baby seagulls are vulnerable for their first year of life
The oldest gull (a Herring gull) was 49 years old. This seems very old indeed and would place gulls amongst the world’s most long-lived bird species.
This is according to the Animal Ageing and Longevity Database.
Various gulls have been recorded living until their mid-30s. For example, several Common gulls have lived until they’re 32 to 33. Unfortunately, there is little to no data of captive gulls’ lifespans - if gulls were kept in captivity, who knows how old they could be if they were well looked after and fed with an optimal diet.
Seagulls are very long-lived, but they’re still not a patch on their distant seabird relative, the Albatross, who can live well into their 60s and beyond! Even so, gulls have impressive lifespans.
Close up of a common gull
Seagulls eat a lot of food - they can sometimes consume as much as 20% of their body weight a day!
Many gulls spend much of their day looking for food or eating, and they’re excellent opportunistic feeders - hence why they so often steal chips, fish and other scraps from the hands of unsuspecting coast visitors!
Given gulls’ ravenous appetites, they certainly prefer to feed every day. They would likely survive for 2 to 3 days without food before they start to become fatigued and lethargic. Gulls have fast metabolisms, which help keep them active, alert and warm during cold weather. As such, they need to eat regularly.
Gulls have an insulating underlayer of down that keeps them warm, and their feathers are dense, slick and oily, which helps keep water out and heat in. They also have strong, active metabolisms which help keep their body heat well-maintained.
Seagulls are magnificent migrators, and some travel thousands of miles each year to winter in warmer climates. Gulls can travel a stunning 7,500 miles (12,000km) a year!
However, gulls still live as far north as the high Arctic and as far south as the Antarctic and are exceptionally tough and hardy birds. They’re highly adapted for cold climates and have developed several strategies for keeping warm, including communal roosting in large flocks and staying on the move rather than settling in one place for too long.
Black-headed gull in alternate plumage
Most, if not all, species of gulls are typically monogamous and mate for life. However, if a pair of gulls fails to raise a successful brood then they may divorce. Gulls will re-pair with a new mate if their mate dies or abandons.
For the most part, gulls are dedicated to their mate and enjoy an equitable relationship in terms of incubation and rearing duties.
Many species of gulls have been recorded living until they’re over 30. Several Common gulls have obtained the age of 32; Black-headed gulls have been observed still alive in their early 30s, likewise with Yellow-footed gulls. Herring gulls are amongst the most long-lived gulls, and there are recorded cases of them living until they’re 40+.
Several Common seagulls have lived until their early-to-mid-30s. For example, ‘Emma’, a Norweigian Common gull was 33 and 3 months old when observed still alive. She isn’t far behind a Danish Common gull that was 5 months older.
The UK is home to around 6 species of gulls, rising to 11 during migration periods. The Black-headed, Herring and Common gull, three of the most common species in the UK, can all live until they’re more than 20 years old. Seagulls in the UK can obtain the age of 30!
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