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Sabine’s gull (Larus sabini or Xema sabini)

Sabine’s gull

Sabine’s gull over drift ice at 82°N, north of Nordaustland.

Description: Being 33 cm long and weighing only 150-210 g, the Sabine’s gull is a rather small gull. It is the only gull in Svalbard with a black head and is thus easy to identify – if you happen to see this very rare bird at all. The sexes look alike. The flight of a Sabine’s gull is very elegant and resembles a swallow’s; the wing tips are black.

Distribution / Migrations: The Sabine’s gull breeds in the sub-Arctic and high Arctic from north America, Greenland and Svalbard to the Russian Arctic. With a few breeding pairs in northern parts only (Moffen, Lågøya and a very few other sites in the north and northeast of Nordaustland), it is one of Svalbard’s rarest breeding birds. Sabine’s gulls spend the winter off southwest Africa and southwestern South America.

Biology: Important food sources include small fishes and marine invertebrates, occasionally also eggs and chicks from other birds. The Sabine’s gull nests on flat, dry tundra in the vicinity of small ponds. Chicks hatch after 23 to 26 days from the two or three eggs. They leave the nest after only a few hours, to follow their parents to the coast or to a pond where they wait until they are able to fly. Young birds probably spend their first summer in the wintering areas.

Miscellaneous: There are probably fewer than ten breeding pairs in Svalbard and sightings are accordingly very rare. Similarly globally, with about 10,000 breeding pairs, this species is not very abundant. Trained eyes with good binoculars or telescopes may be lucky to spot it near Moffen or north of Nordaustland, especially if there is drift ice around. Sabine’s gulls like to breed in colonies of aggressive Arctic terns that chase any aggressor away.

The species owes its name to Sir Edward Sabine, who discovered the bird in 1818 in Greenland.

Sabine’s gull

Sabine’s gull

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last modification: 2014-10-27 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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