• Adult

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Ivory Gull

Pagophila eburnea
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
The family Laridae is made up of birds closely associated with water. Distributed throughout the world, representatives of this family nest on every continent, including Antarctica. Most are long-lived birds, many of which do not breed until they are three or four years old. Most are colony nesters and nest on the ground. Clutch size is generally small, varying from one to four eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and help feed the young. The young typically hatch covered with down and stay in the nest for a few days, after which they leave the nest but stay nearby. Most, especially in Washington, raise a single brood a year. This group is known for its elaborate displays in the air and on the ground.

The Washington representatives of this family can be split into two groups, or subfamilies. The adaptable gulls are the most familiar. Sociable in all seasons, they are mainly coastal, but a number of species also nest inland. Many—but not all—are found around people. Gulls have highly variable foraging techniques and diets. Terns forage in flight, swooping to catch fish or insects. They dive headfirst into the water for fish. Although they are likely to be near water, they spend less time swimming than gulls.
  • Species of Concern

General Description

Ivory Gull is perhaps the most immediately recognizable gull in North America but unfortunately it also one of the least often seen. Small and white-plumaged, it has a black eye, black legs, and a two-toned black-and-yellow bill; immatures have small amounts of black spotting or streaking, including a narrow band on the end of the tail.

The Ivory Gull breeds right around the northern hemisphere but rarely ventures south of the Arctic Circle, nesting on boulder fields and rocky cliffs inland from the frozen sea and wintering mostly on pack ice. It regularly appears in Labrador and Newfoundland in late winter and early spring and is a rare winter visitor to the Maritime Provinces and the northeastern and midwestern United States. It is an exceedingly rare winter visitor in western North America. British Columbia has six records going back more than a century, the most recent of them in December 2001 at Delta, a few miles north of the U.S. border. Washington’s lone record is from Ocean Shores (Grays Harbor County) in December 1975. The only record farther south along the Pacific Coast was of a bird found dying in Orange County, California, in January 1996.

The estimated world population of Ivory Gull has been placed at somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 birds, most of them breeding in the Old World with Canada and Greenland accounting for perhaps 10–20 percent of the total. However, recent surveys in Canada point to a dramatic decline in numbers. It is thought that by 2003 only about 300 birds remained in the country. Suggested causes for the population crash include global warming, which is rapidly altering the fragile ecology of the high Arctic; high concentrations of mercury in the gull’s eggs that may be negatively affecting its reproductive success; and disturbances resulting from industrial-scale exploitation of mineral resources within this species’ nesting and foraging territories. Ivory Gull has recently been added to Canada’s Endangered Species List.

Revised June 2007

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Red List

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern