Be Your Own Birder

Gull Superstitions – Good or Bad Birds?

Gulls are quick to recognize but challenging to identify, and these large, relatively common birds can engender strong feelings in birders and non-birders alike. All members of the bird family Laridae, gulls – often known as seagulls, though they aren’t necessarily associated with the sea and many gulls are found far inland – are part of many superstitions, myths, and legends in different cultures and histories. How many of these gull superstitions are you familiar with, and how may gulls influence your personal beliefs?

Flying Slaty-Backed Gull - Photo by Ik T
Flying Slaty-Backed Gull – Photo by Ik T

Common Gull Superstitions

Because of their association with the sea, gulls are often part of sailors’ or seafaring superstitions, but other common gull superstitions have nothing to do with the water. The most common superstitions about gulls include…

  • Groups of Gulls Symbolizing Death
    If three gulls are seeing flying directly overhead, it may be considered a sign of impending death, and the souls of drowned sailors or drowning victims may be associated with gulls, particularly for anyone lost at sea. Similarly, the screech of a gull may be the mournful cry of the dead, and touching a gull could harm a dead soul.
  • Bad Luck to Harm Gulls
    For seafarers, it is considered bad luck to kill or harm a gull in any way, particularly as a voyage is beginning.
  • Gulls Bringing Good Luck
    In some superstitions, rather than being tricksters or unlucky symbols, gulls are seen as bringing good luck or forecasting positive changes forthcoming in one’s life. This is particularly true for seafarers, sailors, and mariners.
  • Gulls as Totems or Spirit Animals
    Anyone who associates the gull as their personal totem or spirit animal is said to have an easy knack for finding the good in any situation or turning poor situations or limited resources to their advantage. These people, like the birds they revere, are often bold, creative, and resourceful, and they share characteristics such as socializing and fearlessness with their chosen gulls.
  • Gulls Symbolizing State of Mind
    Depending on how a gull is seen, it can symbolize one’s state of mind. A soaring gull, for example, is a symbol of a clear perspective and good decision, while to see a gull carrying something can be believed to indicate a waste of time or resources. In general, gulls can indicate a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. This is especially true if gulls appear in one’s dreams or visions.

Stormy Shore and Gulls - Photo by Bonnie Moreland
Stormy Shore and Gulls – Photo by Bonnie Moreland
  • Gulls for Wisdom and Advice
    In the folklore of the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest, off the shores of British Columbia, gulls are seen as wise spiritual advisors, offering guidance to the people.
  • Gulls Controlling the Weather
    Some native tribes, as well as mariner legends, share the superstition that gulls can control the weather. Being kind to gulls helps ensure fair and friendly seas, while cruelty to gulls can bring on storms or poor winds. Similarly, seeing a gull soaring overhead may indicate an impending storm, while gulls seen far inland are believed to indicate a bad storm at sea (which certainly has truth, as strong winds will indeed blow coastal birds to the interior).
  • Gulls as Tricksters
    In Irish mythology, the god of the sea, Manannan Mac Lir, is sometimes characterized as a gull. Though occasionally seen as a trickster, this god is also known for intelligence, creativity, and playfulness. Manannan Mac Lir, whether in gull form or not, is often honored to encourage bountiful fishing and safe sea passage.
  • Gull Hearts to Ward Off Witches
    In seafaring communities, despite contrary superstitions to avoid harming gulls, it was once believed that taking the heart of a gull and piercing it with pins could ward off witches’ evil spells. The pierced heart would be roasted in a fire to have the greatest positive impact.

Contradictory Gull Superstitions

Clearly, there are both positive and negative superstitions associated with gulls, even in similar legends and lore. Those who love gulls and enjoy all birds may tend to believe more positive, complimentary associations with gulls, while those who eschew these sometimes boisterous or even destructive birds may lean more toward negative superstitions.

Which gull superstitions have you heard of, or which surprise you the most? Share your thoughts on gull myths, legends, lore, and superstitions in the comments!

Gulls at the Beach - Photo by Petra Bensted
Gulls at the Beach – Photo by Petra Bensted

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