Photo: Ed Schneider/Electronic Collection of Georgia Birds/Flickr Creative Commons

Ivory Gull

Pagophila eburnea

A gleaming white bird of the frozen north, spending most of its life along shifting edges of pack ice in the Arctic Ocean. Its pristine appearance is belied by its feeding habits: the Ivory Gull often is a scavenger, eating carrion and even the droppings of other animals, and aggressively fighting over food. Seems to swim less often than most gulls. Only a very rare stray south of the Canadian border.
Conservation status Has declined at nesting areas at Spitsbergen (north of Norway) and probably at a few other spots, but North American population and trends difficult to determine. Climate change and reduction of pack ice in Arctic are likely to cause further declines.
Family Gulls and Terns
Habitat Arctic Ocean, barren northern coasts. Usually around edges of floating ice at sea, also along shores of northern islands in vicinity of pack ice. Rarely farther south along coast, and very rare inland in winter. Nests on cliff ledges, bare rocky ground.
A gleaming white bird of the frozen north, spending most of its life along shifting edges of pack ice in the Arctic Ocean. Its pristine appearance is belied by its feeding habits: the Ivory Gull often is a scavenger, eating carrion and even the droppings of other animals, and aggressively fighting over food. Seems to swim less often than most gulls. Only a very rare stray south of the Canadian border.
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  • adult
  • juvenile (1st yr)
  • juvenile (1st yr)
Feeding Behavior

Does much of its feeding while walking on ice or beach. Forages in flight by dipping to surface of water; sometimes forages by swimming or wading.


Eggs

1-2, rarely 3. Buff to olive, blotched with dark olive, brown, or black. Incubation is by both sexes, roughly 24-26 days. Young: Both parents feed young, and brood them while they are small. Young remain in nest until ready to fly; age at first flight not well known, but at least 5 weeks.


Young

Both parents feed young, and brood them while they are small. Young remain in nest until ready to fly; age at first flight not well known, but at least 5 weeks.

Diet

Carrion, small marine life. Diet includes small fish, crustaceans, insects. Often is primarily a scavenger, feeding on carrion (including kills left by polar bears) and on the droppings of walrus, seals, polar bears, and others. May feed on refuse around northern coastal towns.


Nesting

Usually breeds in colonies. Courtship displays include long calls, tossing head back so that bill points up, lowering head and doing "choking" movements. In courtship feeding, male regurgitates to feed female. Nest site is usually on cliff ledge, either coastal or inland; may be on flat rocky ground. Has been found nesting on patches of rock imbedded in floating icebergs. Nest (built by both sexes) is usually a bulky mound of seaweed, mud, debris, with shallow depression at top; sometimes little or no nest built.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Moves south in winter to waters around Newfoundland and into Bering Sea, but mainly around edges of pack ice. Very rare stray south to New England and Great Lakes; in west, almost never found south of Alaska.

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Migration

Moves south in winter to waters around Newfoundland and into Bering Sea, but mainly around edges of pack ice. Very rare stray south to New England and Great Lakes; in west, almost never found south of Alaska.

Songs and Calls
A harsh eeeer.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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