Most people who live in towns and cities in which large gulls are abundant will be familiar with the Mew call: a plaintive call, often heard in disputes.
Listen to a recording of the Mew call (Opens in new window, click ‘Play Recording’ on the right.)
The Mew call is accompanied by a characteristic Arch-posture in which the head is held down and the wings are held slightly away from the body. It is usually performed while walking but can be performed while standing, flying, or swimming as well.
I’m always impressed by this intimidating posture and find this one of the most beautiful types of behavior to observe.
The Mew call is used in both aggressive and non-aggressive situations:
- In defense of food or territory, aimed at an opponent
- To attract a mate for support in territory defense
- To attract a partner (also for courtship)
- To call chicks that have wandered too far from the nest
- To gather chicks for feeding or after they have been hiding after a disturbance
- As a nest-relief invitation
- As a call performed upon landing
This type of behavior is mostly observed in the larger gull species (from Common Gull (Larus canus) and Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus) upwards); it does not seem to appear in the smaller (hooded) gull species.
A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii) pair-bonding. Initially both are head-tossing, after which the male walks out of frame. He returns around the 35-second mark while running quickly in the Arch-posture and Mew-calling. The female then joins him and continues head-tossing. Rotterdam, Europoort, 9 April 2012.
European Herring Gull audio – Xeno-canto, bird sounds from around the world
Signals for Survival – (DVD) Marc Dantzker and David O. Brown, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Shoals Marine Laboratory, April 1, 2009