Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)

This gull is named after Edward Sabine, an English scientist / soldier who first discovered this species off the west coast of Greenland. It also used to be known as a fork-tailed gull.


Sabine’s gulls are small, reaching only about 35 cm in length and rarely weighing more than 250 g. This species requires two years to reach full adult plumage. During the first two seasons, the gulls have irregular black markings on their wings. These fade as the birds age, as does the black tail band they have their first winter. The beak of a young bird is totally black, but it develops a yellow tip by the third winter.As adults, their wings show a striking tri-coloured pattern - the mantle and inner wing coverts are grey, the outermost, median coverts and inner primaries are white and the outer wing coverts and primary flight feathers are black. The males and females are similar, but both are seasonally dimorphic, having different plumage in the breeding season from in the winter. In the breeding season, the adults have an all-black head, which changes in the winter to white with a slate-grey patch or half-collar on the nape.


The Sabine's gull breeds along High Arctic coastlines in northern Alaska, Greenland, and Siberia, and on Baffin and Ellesmere Islands. It is a rarity in North America in fall and winter, but may be seen occasionally on large, open bodies of water such as the Great Lakes.


The nests of Sabine’s gulls are slight hollows in wet areas of the tundra, built near lakes or the ocean, close to food. Two to three brown eggs, with faint brown markings, are laid in the grass-lined nest. Sabine’s gulls act much like wading birds, leading their young to water soon after they hatch. They also feed like waders, pecking prey items from the edge of pools, swimming in circles to stir up prey like phalaropes, or running over mud flats to scoop up stranded fish.