At a Glance

A beautiful small gull of the far north, named after the great Arctic explorer James Clark Ross. Breeds mainly in remote stretches of northern Siberia, spending other seasons among the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean. Was considered almost mythical by most North American birders until 1980, when it began nesting for several years near a paved road at Churchill, Manitoba. Currently regular only at a few points in Alaska, but rare winter strays turn up farther south.
Gull-like Birds, Gulls and Terns
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Open Ocean, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, New England, Western Canada

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Movements poorly known. After breeding moves north to Arctic Ocean, where apparently spends most of year associated with openings in pack ice. Every fall, many (hundreds or even thousands) move past Point Barrow, Alaska, apparently heading northeast, mostly during September and October. Rare strays south of Arctic in North America may be either on coast or inland.


12-14" (30-36 cm). Short bill, wedge-shaped tail. Adult in summer has black neck ring, strong pink tinge on body; both mostly missing in winter. In flight, adult shows dark gray underwings. Immature has wedge-shaped tail, wing pattern like young Black-legged Kittiwake.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, Pink, Red, White
Wing Shape
Long, Narrow, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Pointed, Rounded, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A harsh miaw; usually silent in winter.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat
Call Type
Raucous, Scream


Pack ice, northern coasts, tundra. Nests (in Siberia and Manitoba) mainly on wet, boggy tundra and marsh near southern limits of tundra regions; also some on high Arctic tundra farther north. Spends remainder of year at sea, mostly around areas of pack ice, also along Arctic coastlines. Very rare visitor farther south, both along coast and on inland waters.



2-3. Olive with brown blotches. Incubation is by both parents, probably 21-22 days.


After the young are a few days old, parents visit only briefly and infrequently to feed them; nesting colony may look deserted. Age at first flight not well known, probably more than 3 weeks.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by flying low over water, dropping to surface and partly submerging, or picking items from surface while hovering. Also feeds while swimming, or while wading or walking along shore. May paddle its feet in water while wading or hovering, perhaps to stir up prey.


Insects, crustaceans, fish. Diet on breeding grounds mostly insects. At sea, feeds on crustaceans, small fish, mollusks, marine worms; may also eat carrion, refuse.


May nest in loose colonies, often associated with colonies of Arctic Tern. Aggressive nest defense of terns may benefit Ross's Gulls nesting nearby. Courtship displays include two birds facing each other, raising their tails and giving soft calls; also standing side by side, circling each other on foot. Nest site is on an island or hummock in a marshy area, close to water. Nest is a shallow depression, lined with bits of plant material.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Most of breeding range is remote from human impacts, but considered vulnerable since world population has been estimated at under 10,000.