Yellow-footed and Heermann’s Gulls
© Paul F. Donald

Seabird Species

Gulls & Phalaropes

A recognisable group of seabirds, found everywhere from the high seas to urban rooftops.

This group of 47 species is one of the most recognisable, despite there being no such species as a “seagull”.

With their worldwide distribution, they breed on every continent but are less common on tropical islands. These birds range in size from the 29 cm long little gull to the 76 cm greater black-backed gull. No gull species is a single-prey specialist or uses only one foraging technique – they are a highly adaptable and opportunistic species, meaning they feed on many food types.


There are three species of phalarope, however only the red and red-necked phalaropes are true seabirds. Despite being shorebirds, they spend their non-breeding season feeding out at sea. Phalaropes breed in the cool waters around wither the Arctic Circle or North America, and overwinter in the tropical oceans or South America. Phalaropes are small birds with characteristic straight and slender beaks. They have a unique foraging strategy, swimming in circles to produce a whirlpool that brings their food to the surface.

In The Seabird Tracking Database:
Colonies: 49
Tracks: 2952
Points: 2828364
Data range: 2007 – 2022
Data holders: 22
Species Tracked

Spotlight species: Sabine’s Gull

Sabine's Gull
© Paul F. Donald

The Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabinihas the longest migration of any gull species, covering distances of 30-40,000 km from breeding to wintering sites and back. This species also uses the NACES MPA during migration. Sabine’s Gulls perform a distraction display when threatened, pretending to be injured and leading the predator away from the nest – this is a common tactic among shorebirds, but rare among gulls.

Please view this page on a desktop computer to see our interactive species colony map.

Tracked colonies of Gulls & Phalaropes

Use the map below to explore seabird colonies around the world.

Thanks to our data contributors: Alice Trevail; Birdwatch Ireland; Carsten Egevang; Ellie Owen/RSPB; Francis Daunt; Gail Robertson; Iain Stenhouse; Jacob Gonzalez-Solis; Jan Veen; Jez Blackburn; Jonathan Green; Jose Manuel Arcos; Juan F. Masello; Justine Dossa; Morten Frederiksen; Petra Quillfeldt; Samantha Patrick; Willem Bouten