Foundation Voorne Bird Observatory - The Netherlands  *

.   Norman Deans van Swelm



At my request for observations of fruit-eating gulls,  I received a considerable number of very interesting cases from both sides of the Atlantic. I thank all those who shared their experiences with us. 

Chuck Carlson; Kenn Kaufman; Howard King; Liis Veelma; Verena A. Gill; Noel Wamer; Tony Leukering/Nick Komar; Stephen Hult; Chris Tessaglia-Hymes; Harlow Bielefeldt; Thomas J. Dunkerton; Daniel D. Roby; Christian P. Dau; Andrew Paterson; Eddie Chapman; Johan Elmberg; Andy Harding; Alain Fossé; Christian Dronneau; Fridtjof Ziesemer; Pascal Raevel; Danae Portolou; Rafael Matias; John Cortes; Ernest Garcia; Michalis Dretakis; Peter Meininger; Piotr Tadeusz; Mardik Leopold;

 from the United States & Canada


-Chuck Carlson - Fort Peck, Montana, USA: Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis picking fruit from Russian olive trees      
<<<< olive picking gulls - click to magnify


Here at Ft. Peck, Montana Ring-billed Gulls regularly pick fruit from Russian olive trees when there is enough of a breeze to help them stay in place over the fruit. They can be seen doing this in the spring when there is little else to feed on and also in late summer when the new crop is ripe. c Chuck Carlson


-Kenn Kaufman from Rocky Ridge, Ohio sends this response:

Thanks for sharing the photos of the Atlantic Gulls picking olives while in flight.
In the southwestern USA, on the lower Colorado River (where it forms the boundary between California and Arizona), Ring-billed Gulls have been seen on a number of occasions hovering to pluck dates from the date palms planted in groves along the river.  I have seen this myself at least a couple of times.  I believe this behavior may be mentioned in the book on Birds of the Lower Colorado River Valley, by Ken Rosenberg et al., although I don't have that book at hand right at the moment to check.  Date palms are not native
to that region, so this has be a behavior that the gulls have learned in recent decades.

-Howard King from Riverside Ca. says:

Here in Southern California, I've observed California Gulls picking dates from palm trees and Ring-billed Gulls harvesting olives. This is certainly a behavior that I don't see very often. Both times, it was fairly windy..       cheers....!

-Liis Veelma from Winnipeg Manitoba Canada reports:

On September 27, 2005 I saw both adult and immature Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis and Herring Gulls L. argentatus (or by some taxonomies American Herring Gulls L. smithsonianus) hovering to pick
the ripe fruit of mountain ash (rowan) Sorbus americana or S. decora on the north shore of Lake Superior near Rossport, Ontario, Canada.
There was a plentiful crop that fall in the region, and a few gulls kept working a small clump of shrubby trees from late afternoon until almost sunset. There were approximately 20 gulls in the group, but I
could not tell if  just a few specific individuals were picking or if all the birds were taking turns eating and loafing. Gulls are not very efficient fruit pickers and it struck me as being a lot of effort for
small gains. It was a fascinating event to watch, though, especially against the backdrop of a dramatic sunset and beautiful scenery.


-Verena A. Gill from Anchorage, Alaska notes:

I studied Glaucous-winged gulls Larus glaucescens that picked strawberries on an island in the Gulf of Alaska.

-Noel Wamer from Jacksonville, Florida writes:

I have frequently observed Laughing and Ring-billed gulls feeding on the ripe fruit of cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto).  It is quite site to see them hovering around the palms and plucking the fruit.

-Tony Leukering from Brighton, CO points at the following reference:

Nick Komar published a short note (and pictures) on this behavior in Colorado:

Komar, N. 2002. Ring-billed Gulls feeding on Russian-Olive fruit. Journal of the Colorado Field Ornithologists 36:32-34.

-Stephen Hult from Edgewater Maryland reports:

Here in Maryland I have often seen flocks of Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis hovering to feed on ripe persimmons in the fall.

-Chris Tessaglia-Hymes from Ithaca, New York has this to say:

Over the past several years, on at least three different occasions, I have observed Ring-billed Gulls plucking crabapples (Malus sp.) from ornamental trees during the late fall. The trees used are planted in the main parking lots of Ithaca College campus and also at the Cayuga Mall parking lot, both of Ithaca, New York. This gull feeding behavior has included: plucking fruits from the trees while on the wing, landing in the trees and plucking, and foraging for dropped fruits beneath the trees. I suspect my observations were each hit-or-miss, in that these birds may likely use these fruits annually as a food source during a specific window of time. It appears that a small group of gulls can easily clean off a small 6' tree in a matter of hours. Visiting the same site the next day has resulted in no gulls and no fruit. Ring-billed Gull is a common year-round species for Ithaca, New York.


-Harlow Bielefeldt from Waukesha County Brookfield, WI quotes:

"Occasionally eat dates, cherries, blueberries, strawberries." from Ryder, J. P. 1993. Ring-billed Gull. In The Birds of North America, No. 33 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union. -Omnivorous and omnipresent.  h.-

-Thomas J. Dunkerton from Titusville, Florida speculates:

Interesting topic, as I've recently witnessed this myself, observing Ring-billed Gulls.  They were eating the berries off of Sabal Palms here in Titusville, Florida.  One thing that struck me was, as glutinous as gulls may be perceived to be by some, these birds spent all of about 5 to 10 minutes on these particular tree tops.  Couldn't help but wonder if perhaps the berries might just be some sort of digestive aid rather than a meal.

A few images to share can be found here:

-Daniel D. Roby from Corvallis, Oregon writes:

You asked for other observations of gulls picking fruit. I have been working on colonial waterbirds nesting on the Columbia Plateau region in the states of Oregon and Washington, in the U.S. There, California gulls (Larus californicus) have developed the habit of stripping cherry trees in cherry orchards of their fruit. This has actually become a serious loss for cherry growers on the Columbia Plateau. I have visited some of the California gull colonies on islands in the Columbia River, and some colonies are absolutely
covered in cherry pits. The adult gulls are evidently feeding cherries to their young, a diet that can't be very conducive of adequate chick nutrition.

-Christian P. Dau from Anchorage, Alaska writes:

We have no "wild" olives in Alaska (yet) but I have seen Glaucous Gulls Larus hyperboreus roosting on ericaceous tundra in fall and based on vent staining, they occasionally feed on Crowberries Empetrum nigrum.  I'm sorry I don't have photographic documentation but I have handled birds and prepared museum specimens with such evidence.

from Europe & North Africa & the Middle East 

-Andrew Patterson from Fuengirola, Spain remembers:

As for the gulls actively picking olives in Gib., I have a dim memory of a
report of Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus  (I think I'm correct) taking fallen olives in Castellón
(N of Valencia-S of Barcelona) in the late 1980s-early 1990s, but not actively picking.


-Eddie Chapman from Voss, Norway says:

here in Norway I have seen Common Gull Larus canus picking cherries and actually landing in the top of the cherry trees to do so.


-Johan Elmberg from Kristianstad Sweden says:

I read your note and just want to tell you that Larus canus and Larus argentatus can frequently be seen eating berries like Empetrum, Arctostaphylos and Vaccinium on coastal heaths in northern Sweden in late summer and early fall. These fruits are not oily like an olive, but certainly full of sugars and nutritious in that way.


-Piotr Tadeusz from Poland reports:

Larus ridibundus in southern Poland very commonly eat cherries ,landing in the top of the cherry trees to do so.

-Andy Harding from England remembers:

I  have seen similar behaviour, but once only.  I saw about 8 to 10 Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus hovering around and picking the Haws from a Hawthorn bush at Bletchley Brick Pits, Buckinghamshire, UK  one winter...about 10 years ago, possibly longer.  
Never seen anything similar before or since.

-Alain Fossé from Anjou, Montreuil-Juigné,  Maine-et-Loire, Western France adds:

Black-headed Gulls Larus ridibundus are known to take cherries from the trees too.


-Christian Dronneau from Strasbourg, France says:

Very common and regular behaviour for Larus ridibundus with cherries in east France, around the breeding colonies (every year and huge quantity swalowed every day during maturity time).
This species also eats  buds of Salix in winter time (see Dronneau 1997 :  La Mouette rieuse Larus ridibundus, consommatrice de bourgeons  d'arbres, Nos Oiseaux 44 : 107-108).

-Fridtjof Ziesemer from Germany states:

As far as I know it is quite normal for Larus canus to pluck cherries from the trees. I have seen it myself, and there should be a number of publications, e.g. in "Ornithologische Mitteilungen".  

I looked into the "Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas" and found in vol. 8/1 on p. 478: "Kirschen (cherries) werden schon von Immaturen im Flug gepflückt (KLAEHN u.a., Stader avifaun. Jber. 1968/69, 1971), aber auch in großen Mengen vom Boden aufgelesen (s. HAARMANN,Vogelwelt 93, 1972)."
A second source is GARTHE, S. (Ed., 1996): Die Vogelwelt von Hamburg und Umgebung, vol. 3. Wachholtz, Neumünster. Larus ridibundus (p. 202): "Pflücken von Früchten an Eiche, Linde und Rotbuche" Larus canus (indirect evidence: the importance of the huge fruit growing area "Altes Land" at the time when cherries ripen, is stressed): "Die Obstanbaugebiete des Alten Landes werden kurzzeitig (zur Kirschernte!) aufgesucht" (p. 209).  

And from Lühesand, an island in the river Elbe where Common Gulls breed: "Lühesands ... Brutvögel sollen nach Befunden an Speiballen ... hauptsächlich von Mäusen und ab Juli von Kirschen aus dem Alten Land, dem benachbart gelegenen Obstanbaugebiet, leben. Brut- und Rastplätze auf Lühesand können dann "mit Kirschkernen übersät" sein" (p. 223)

-Pascal Raevel from France writes:

The behaviour you mention in Gibraltar, I was lucky enough to enjoy in S Spain, Morocco and Tunisia mainly with Black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus (but also bigger species).

Most of my observations concern gulls feeding on the ground (although a few picked the olives directly from the trees).

-Danae Portolou from Athens, Greece writes:

This short note is to let you know that olive-feeding gulls are a very commonly seen in Greece. This must be something that takes place mostly during autumn and winter when the ripe fruit is still on the tree. They mainly feed on wild olive trees which are not cultivated on many islands and islets in the Aegean. Olive pips are found everywhere on breeding islets, among the nests and with pellets also containing insect remains.

-Rafael Matias....

was kind enough to look up a short note on Larus ridibundus feeding on olives. It's by J.D.R.Vernon, British Birds 62 (1), 1969. In it the following references are mentioned: Collingwood Ingram, British Birds 61:311; Alauda, 1935, 7:382-401; Revue Francais d'Ornithologie, 1925: 17: 299. Black-headed Gulls are said to have eaten olives in Tunesia and acorns from Quercus , Hawthorn berries, crowberries, bog whortleberries and cherries in Great Britain. Stomach contants in Italy contained olives and figs.


-John Cortes from Gibraltar adds: 

Gulls here in Gibraltar frequently pick fruit also of dragon trees Dracaena draco, so they have obviously made it a habit!

-Ernest Garcia from Gibraltar writes:

I have just seen the item in the Seabirds Bulletin on gulls eating olives in Gibraltar. I know this isn't unusual there and they sometimes eat lentisc Pistachia lentiscus fruits as well.

-Michalis Dretakis from Crete writes:

Yellow-legged Gulls, Larus michahellis taking olives from the trees is a common behaviour here on Crete-Greece.
I have seen several times in the same way as the pictures showed.
If you visit the colonies in the islets you wiil find many many olive seeds.

-Peter Meininger from The Netherlands reports:

I have seen Common Gulls Larus canus in Poland picking cherries; Mediterranean Gulls Larus melanocephalus picking Sunflower seeds in France and White-eyed Gulls Larus leucophtalmus eating berries from scrub in the Egyptian desert.  

Ecological and Biogeographical Implications of Yellow-Legged Gulls (Larus cachinnans Pallas) as Seed Dispersers of Rubia fruticosa Ait. (Rubiaceae) in the Canary Islands Manuel Nogales, Felix M. Medina, Vicente Quilis, Mercedes Gonzalez-Rodriguez
Journal of Biogeography, Vol. 28, No. 9 (Sep., 2001), pp. 1137-1145
View Article Abstract

-Mardik Leopold from The Netherlands refers to Common Gulls picking cherries in Germany in: Kubetzki U., Garthe S. & Hüppop O., 1999. The diet of Common Gulls Larus canus breeding on the German North Sea coast. Atlantic Seabirds 1(2): 57-70.

-Jean Iron from Toronto reports that while on expedition in the Mingan archipelago, Quebec, Canada in July 2007, she saw Herring Gulls (L.smithonianus) eating berries. Though from a distance, she thinks it were blueberries (genus Vaccinium).