, Volume 279, Issue 1, pp 39–55 | Cite as

The diet of Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) during winter and early spring on the lower Great Lakes

  • P. J. Ewins
  • D. V. Weseloh
  • J. H. Groom
  • R. Z. Dobos
  • P. Mineau


In the Great Lakes, the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) is a prominent member of the aquatic bird community, and has been used to monitor spatial and temporal trends in contaminant levels. To understand more fully contaminant loading outside the breeding season, we analysed the contents of 1298 freshly regurgitated pellets and 179 fresh faeces, collected in March and early April 1978–83, and between late December and late February 1990–91, from the vicinity of breeding colonies in Lakes Ontario and Erie, the Niagara River, Detroit River, and south-eastern parts of Lake Huron. Most adult Herring Gulls from the Great Lakes population winter in these areas, but there is no published account of their food habits other than during the breeding season. Most pellets from colonies close to large urban centres contained remains of garbage, as well as various fish species. Small mammals, notably Deer Mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) dominated the early spring diet at Lake Huron colonies near agricultural areas. At all other sites fish predominated in pellets and faeces, but garbage items were also recorded regularly. The species of fish consumed varied regionally, probably reflecting local availability. In Lake Ontario, Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) and Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) occurred most frequently in samples, whereas Freshwater Drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) was the main fish prey in Lake Erie and the Detroit River. Dietary differences were apparent between years, within seasons, and amongst areas. While these may have reflected some real differences in food availability, interpretation of these results was confounded by various biases inherent in the sampling of pellets and faeces to determine diet in such an opportunistic species. Therefore, it would be unwise to draw rigid conclusions as to regional or seasonal differences in the diets of piscivorous birds, based upon analyses of diet from only a small sample of sites or years. Herring Gulls appear to feed mainly on fish and garbage in winter and early spring on the lower Great Lakes (much as during the breeding season), but any locally abundant food source is probably exploited opportunistically.

Key words

Great Lakes Herring Gull diet winter spring 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. J. Ewins
    • 1
  • D. V. Weseloh
    • 1
  • J. H. Groom
    • 2
  • R. Z. Dobos
    • 2
  • P. Mineau
    • 1
  1. 1.Canadian Wildlife ServiceBurlingtonCanada
  2. 2.Inland Waters DirectorateBurlingtonCanada

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