The Sabine’s Gull is a small gull with a graceful, tern-like flight. This gull has a slate-gray back, a white belly and tail, and black wingtips. The adult has a black bill with a yellow tip. The middle of the wings is white, giving the bird a distinctive ‘M’ pattern across its wings in flight. In breeding season, the adult has a dark gray hood, edged in black. The adult in non-breeding plumage has a partially gray and white head. The juvenile is brown across the back, neck, and head, with a white face.
The Sabine’s Gull often hovers low over the water, dropping down to take food from the water’s surface without landing. It also forages while swimming. In summer, this gull often feeds by walking along the tidal flats and picking up food. The Sabine’s Gull has been known to spin in circles in shallow water, stirring up food from the bottom.
Sabine’s Gulls nest in the high Arctic in marshy tundra ponds close to the coast. Outside the breeding season, they spend most of their time at sea, out of sight of land. When at sea, they concentrate over the continental shelf or over upwellings of cold, nutrient-rich water.
Their remote breeding range and seagoing nature may have protected the population, however the possibility of oil-drilling in the Arctic threatens the Sabine’s Gull’s nesting habitat. During migration and winter, they are vulnerable to water pollution and fluctuations of prey abundance. Since their winter diet is not well known, more research is needed to fully understand what is necessary for conservation
In summer, the Sabine’s Gull feeds mostly on insects and aquatic insect larvae. During migration, small crustaceans, fish, and other sea creatures are also part of the diet. Their winter diet is not well known.
This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 100,000-1,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 330,000-700,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2002). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from birdlife.org]
Nests are located on the open ground, in small colonies, typically close to the water. Sabine’s Gull colonies are often located near or within Arctic Tern colonies. The nest is a shallow depression, sometimes unlined, or lined with seaweed, moss, or feathers. The female typically lays two eggs, which both parents help incubate for about 3½ weeks. Shortly after the young hatch, the parents lead them to water, where they mostly feed themselves.
Transequatorial migrant, pelagic away from breeding grounds. Wintering areas long conjectured, but general pattern now clarified: Siberian and Alaskan birds winter off Pacific coast of South America, and Canadian and Greenland birds in South Atlantic off southern Africa.
In Atlantic sector, Greenland and east Canadian breeding areas vacated August and early September. From Greenland seas, movement is south-east across open Atlantic towards Iberia and western Morocco before turning south into Canary Current. Present European inshore waters mainly after westerly or northwesterly gales. In Britain and Ireland occurs mainly in Western Approaches (Cornwall, Cork, Kerry), chiefly mid-August to mid-November, peaking September. Regular in Bay of Biscay, where substantial numbers can appear after gales. Main spring passage past West Africa in first half May; far fewer in European inshore waters in spring. First arrives east Canadian and west Greenland seas in last week of May.
- spanwidth min.: 80 cm
- spanwidth max.: 87 cm
- size min.: 30 cm
- size max.: 36 cm
- incubation min.: 23 days
- incubation max.: 25 days
- fledging min.: 0 days
- fledging max.: 0 days
- broods 1
- eggs min.: 1
- eggs max.: 3
- Conservation Status
- Chroicocephalus sabini
- Xema sabini
- EU, NA n coasts