Are Seagulls Protected Birds In USA? (Everything To Know)


Seagulls are found all over the USA from coastal regions to inland parking lots and landfills. 

They can become a nuisance with their chorus of squawks, aggressive nature to get food, defecation all over things, and nesting on rooftops.

Seagulls are protected in the USA, despite being a nuisance bird. It is illegal to cause harm or injury to seagulls and their nesting sites, eggs, and chicks. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is implemented to prevent the decline of population to the balance that birds, such as seagulls, bring to the ecosystem. 

Seagulls cannot be captured, traded, sold, or transported without explicit special permission to do so. Organizations such as the Audubon Society help to spread awareness and conservation efforts of birds.

Why Are Seagulls Protected Birds?

Seagulls are protected by the Migratory Act Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This act is a conservation treaty between the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia for the sustainability of native migratory bird populations.

Seagulls and their nesting sites and eggs are protected in all of the United States of America.

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A license to hunt unprotected wildlife as well as a federal permit is needed for the seasonal hunting of native migratory birds, such as ducks, pheasants, and wild turkeys. 

Even though seagulls are migratory, they are not game birds. Hunting seasons do not include them as an option for hunting.

Therefore, since native seagulls migrate and are not considered game birds in open hunting seasons, they are protected birds at all times.

This protection ensures that seagulls are safeguarded from the threats of population decline and ensures that breeding habitats thrive. Harm cannot be inflicted upon the seagulls or their nests and eggs.

Role Of Seagulls In The Ecosystem

Seagulls play a valuable role in the ecosystem. 

Many birds are considered a keystone species, meaning that other species depend on them for balance in the ecosystem. Energy flows from producers to consumers, and then to predators. 

Birds also indirectly affect other animals’ survival as their habitats may coexist with other creatures and host parasitic invertebrates.

If birds fail to exist, then it would drastically change the ecosystem, potentially causing accelerated death, disease, or extinction of other creatures.

Birds are responsible for pollination, dispersing seeds, scavenging and removing carcasses, keeping rodent levels down, and controlling insect populations.

Seagulls, in particular, are omnivorous, eating insects, rodents, dead animals, dung, grain, and berries.

When carcasses are eaten by birds, such as seagulls, it reduces the chance that pathogens, like tuberculosis or rabies, from rats and feral animals, are spread.

The droppings from seabirds also provide fertilizer and nutrition for coral reefs and water-dwelling creatures.

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Examples Of The Positive Impact Of Seagulls

A single bird, such as the seagull, can eat thousands of insects each day.  

As of 1955, Utah’s official state bird is the California gull (Larus californicus). This was to recognize its role in saving the state’s crops from a plague of insurmountably destructive Rocky Mountain crickets (Melanoplus spretus). 

Another example is that kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus) in Patagonia (South America) eat the hookworm-infected feces of fur seal pups (Arctocephalinae), reducing the spread of disease.

As a result, birds significantly impact human health as they regulate pest populations, reduce crop damage, and eliminate sources of disease.

Exceptions To The Law

There are some exceptions for killing or deterring seagulls from human-inhabited areas if they are causing extreme nuisances.  

Seagulls are considered a nuisance because they are noisy, aggressive scavengers, and leave behind a large amount of droppings. 

Their feces pose the risk of spreading diseases to humans. They will carry food and waste from landfills to their chosen habitats, again posing disease risks to humans.

However, the killing of seagulls can only be done with federal permission. Typically, there has to be evidence that the birds pose a risk, and that the population will remain large and healthy to handle any decrease in numbers.

If a person kills a seagull without permission, it is punishable by law. This can lead to a fine of up to $5,000 and a 6-month jail sentence.

It is better to safely deter seagulls rather than kill them. (More on that below.)

Are Seagulls Endangered Birds?

There are more than 40 species of gulls in the world, and most of them are not considered to be endangered.

However, the following species are considered to be at risk:

Bird (Scientific Name)Risk LevelNative To
Audoin’s gull (Ichthyaetus audouinii)VulnerableSpain



Relict gull (Ichthyaetus relictus)VulnerableMongolia



Lava gull (Leucophaeus fuliginosus)VulnerableGalapagos Islands
Saunders’s gull (Chroicocephalus saundersi)VulnerableEastern China

Korea (Western coast)
Ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea)EndangeredThe High Arctic
Black-billed gull (Chroicocephalus bulleri)EndangeredNew Zealand
White-eyed gull (Ichthyaetus leucophthalmus)Near threatenedThe Red Sea (between Africa and Asia)
Olrog’s gull (Larus atlanticus)Near threatenedSouthern Brazil


Northern Argentina
Chinese black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus saundersi)EndangeredChina

Hong Kong


North Korea

South Korea




Heermann’s gull (Larus heermanni)Near threatenedMexico's Gulf of California
Huahine gull (Chroicocephalus utunui)ExtinctThe Society Islands of French Polynesia

Please refer to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list for current information on the status of each bird, since they can change.

Threats To Seagulls

Seagulls face many threats to their survival from both natural and manmade sources.

These include the following:

  • Pollution of water and land negatively impacts habitats and food sources
  • Loss of habitat due to manmade developments
  • Loss of habitat due to inclement weather and climate change
  • Overfishing and food competition reduces water food sources
  • Illegal harm to or killing of the birds
  • Predators that eat their eggs and chicks (birds of prey, cats, foxes, raccoons, minks)
  • Erosion of nesting grounds (rocky cliffs and ledges) due to climate changes (harsh weather and rising sea levels)
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Conservation Efforts To Protect Seagulls

While federal law protects seagulls in the USA, conservation efforts started even earlier to ensure that their populations remained healthy. 

National Audubon Society

The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905 (before the migratory law was enacted), to protect gulls, egrets, terns, and other water birds.

This was formed due to outrage over the slaughter of water birds for the millinery trade (headwear). 

The Audubon Society has a rich history of protecting and utilizing conservation efforts for birds. 

These include the following:

  • Hiring wardens to protect breeding areas
  • Hosting meetings to convince women not to buy feathered hats
  • Counting birds (birdwatching) instead of hunting them
  • State laws such as the Audubon Plumage Law prevent the sale or possession of protected birds’ feathers
  • Forming bird sanctuaries and nature centers
  • Creating field guides to promote birding as a hobby
  • Monitoring and documenting bird health through safe tagging practices
  • Advocating for bird health by helping to ban chemicals such as the insecticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT)
  • Supporting the enactments of other acts such as the Endangered Species Act, various conservation acts, and the Everglades Protection and Restoration Act
  • Creating educational birding programs
  • Forming collaborative relationships with corporations and other birding initiatives
  • Hosting pledges to unite with the Audubon Society to call on elected officials to take action

Community And Individual Conservation

Local communities and individuals can also take steps to protect water birds, such as seagulls. 

Primarily, this involves avoiding urban and local development near their nesting grounds. 

Individuals should keep their pets on a leash, cover trash, and avoid the use of pesticides.

They should avoid feeding seagulls human food and should consider eating meals inside.

Problems That Seagulls Cause

Seagulls can become a nuisance bird to humans. 

They are noisy, flock together, and leave a large amount of droppings.  

This video discusses the territorial and noisy behaviors of seagulls:

Seagulls can become aggressive when seeking food sources, seeking opportunities to snatch food from people.

They are attracted to landfills, and coastal areas, and will nest and breed where there are ample supplies of food and water. 

Landfills are an excellent opportunity for seagulls to easily scavenge and forage for rodents and food waste. Gulls will carry these to their nesting sites, posing the risk of the spread and transmission of diseases.

With human development encroaching on their habitats, seagulls will adapt by nesting on rooftops. 

This can cause damage to buildings as extensive amounts of bird droppings reduce the life of roofing materials by 50%. Nesting materials can also block drainage systems on roofs.

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Seagull droppings have high amounts of uric acid which are corrosive and will damage metal structures and paint finishes.

Seagull-Safe Deterrents

There are a few ways to safely alleviate or reduce problems that seagulls can cause.

These include the following strategies:

  • Businesses should post signs to not feed the birds and to dispose of all trash in covered garbage cans.
  • Remove picnic tables from water-adjacent areas and parking lots.
  • Use and install humane seagull deterrents such as bird “spikes” and netting that prevent them from nesting or roosting on rooftops.
  • Mount a faux owl or hawk statute, which are predators of seagulls.

Other Birds Protected By The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects all birds to keep their populations strong for a healthy ecosystem. 

This includes, but is not limited to, the following native migratory birds:

  • Apapane (Himatione sanguinea)
  • Albatross (Diomedeidae)
  • Blackbird (Turdus merula)
  • Becard (Pachyramphus)
  • Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
  • Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
  • Cormorant (Phalacrocoracidae)
  • Crow (Corvus)
  • Duck (Anas)
  • Eagle (Accipitridae)
  • Falcon (Falco)
  • Finch (Fringillidae)
  • Goose (Anatidae)
  • Heron (Ardeidae)
  • Hummingbird (Trochilidae)
  • Kingfisher (Alcedinidae)
  • Loon (Gavia)
  • Nuthatch (Sitta)
  • Owl (Strigiformes)
  • Pigeon (Columbidae)
  • Robin (Turdus migratorius)
  • Sandpiper (Scolopacidae)
  • Titmouse (Paridae)
  • Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  • Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferus)
  • Woodpecker (Picidae)

The full list of protected migratory species can be found in Title 50 Part 10.13 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  

To End

Seagulls are protected birds in the USA by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. It is against the law to harm, capture, trade, sell, or transport migratory birds.

If seagulls are a nuisance, safe deterrents can be used such as signage to inform people not to feed them, to dispose of trash in covered containers, and to remove picnic tables near seagulls’ habitats. 

People can also keep seagulls off of rooftops by using bird-safe spikes or netting, and by mounting faux owl or hawk statues.

The Audubon Society takes action to protect birds and inform the general public about how to protect birds to maintain the delicate balance of the ecosystem that benefits all creatures.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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