Widespread and common in the mid-19th century, Ring-billed Gulls suffered steep population declines around the turn of the 20th century as hunters sought their plumage for the millinery trade and their eggs for food. By 1900 the birds were nearly gone from the eastern United States. Protective legislation early in the century enabled a comeback, and the gulls had reestablished in the Great Lakes region by the mid 1920s.
In the 1960s, Ring-billed Gull populations in the Great Lakes exploded with the proliferation of food-rich, human-altered habitats like landfills and garbage dumps. Today, an estimated three to four million Ring-billed Gulls exist in North America, and the species continues to expand its range northward. One researcher has written that the Ring-billed Gull “has staged the greatest population increase sustained over the longest period of time of any Great Lakes species.” Many people feel the bird has become a nuisance.