Thayer’s Gulls

Thayer's Gulls (Larus thayeri)

The Thayer’s Gulls (Larus thayeri) is a large gull native to North America that breeds in the Arctic islands of Canada and primarily winters on the Pacific coast, from southern Alaska to the Gulf of California, though there are also wintering populations on the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi River.

Thayer's Gulls is on Flight
Thayer’s Gulls is on Flight

The species has occurred as a vagrant to Tamaulipas, Mexico, Japan., Denmark, and other parts of Western Europe.

During winter, it is found in small numbers among mixed flocks of large gulls, though it may gather in large numbers in certain locations. In summer, it is found on the tundra of high Arctic islands


Somewhat intermediate between American Herring Gull and Iceland Gull in habit and appearance and at times considered conspecific with either species, the adult Thayer’s Gull in nonbreeding plumage has a pale gray mantle, with obvious blackish wingtips, and extensive brown streaking on the head and neck.

The head, neck, breast, belly, and underwings are primarily white, and the legs are pink. There is a red spot on the lower mandible, and the color of the iris is generally dark.

Thayer’s Gull reaches a length of 58–63 cm, with a wingspan of 130–140 cm and a weight of approximately 0.72–1.5 kg (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In summer, the head and neck are white, with the bill turning bright yellow with a larger red spot on the lower mandible.

Juvenile gulls are brown, with black bills, and black legs which quickly fade to adult pink.

A Thayer's Gulls Next to a Water
A Thayer’s Gulls Next to a Water

Breeding / Nesting

These gulls with lay 3 bluish or greenish eggs in nests lined with grass, moss or lichens.

Calls / Vocalizations

Their voice consists of mostly mewing and squealing notes.


There is continuing debate about the taxonomic status of this species, and some authorities consider Thayer’s Gull to be the dark-mantled form of Iceland Gull, with Kumlien’s Gull (variously treated as a subspecies of either Thayer’s or Iceland Gulls) as an intermediate example, forming a cline rather than separate species.

The American Ornithologists’ Union considered Thayer’s Gull a subspecies of American Herring Gull from 1917 until 1973, when they determined it was a separate species from Herring Gull.

While numerous papers have since been written suggesting downgrading this species to a subspecies or even a morph of Iceland Gull, the AOU as well as all North American field guides continue to treat Thayer’s Gull as a separate species.

The British Ornithologists’ Union follows the publication Birds of North America in lumping the three as forms of Iceland Gull.

Both the common and species names honor ornithologist John Eliot Thayer.

Thayer's Gulls is on the Sand
Thayer’s Gulls is on the Sand


  • BirdLife International (2004). Larus thayeri. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • del Hoyo, J., et al., eds. (1996). Handbook of the Birds of the World 3: 609. Lynx Edicions.
  • Larus thayeri (TSN 176828). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on 10 March 2006.
  • Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America ISBN 0-679-45121-8
  • Bull, John; Farrand, Jr., John (April 1984). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-41405-5.

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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