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Ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea)

The ele­gant Ivo­ry gull is one of tho­se sea­birds we don’t know much about. It is easy to reco­gni­ze by its pure white plu­mage. The Ivo­ry gull is usual­ly found in remo­te places – or on rub­bish dumps.

Ivory gull

Ivo­ry gull

Descrip­ti­on: The Ivo­ry gull is a medi­um-sized gull (length 44 cm, weight 400-500 g) with com­ple­te­ly white plu­mage, yel­low beak and black eyes and legs.

Distribution/Migrations: Ivo­ry gulls breed in cer­tain are­as in the high Arc­tic. In Sval­bard, they breed in the high-arc­tic nor­the­as­tern and eas­tern parts of the archi­pe­la­go (Sjuøya­neNord­aus­t­landKong Karls Land). Colo­nies are small, chan­ging their loca­ti­on after a while and usual­ly situa­ted on steep cliffs, often far inland, within gla­cia­ted are­as. The­re are excep­ti­ons, as some Ivo­ry gulls breed on flat tun­dra or smal­ler moun­ta­ins near the coast, for eksam­ple on Abeløya, the eas­tern­most island in Kong Karls Land.

Ivo­ry gulls spend their lives most­ly in waters with a lot of drift ice. They like to fol­low ships for a while and are thus regu­lar­ly seen from ships in are­as with drift ice, as well as in the vici­ni­ty of sett­le­ments, as they find food near rub­bish dumps and sewa­ge water out­lets. Ivo­ry gulls spend the win­ter near the ice edge or at sea bet­ween sou­thwest Green­land and Labra­dor. An indi­vi­du­al from Spits­ber­gen has even been found in the Bering Sea.

Bio­lo­gy: Ivo­ry gulls build a simp­le nest of plant mate­ri­al and lay one or two eggs in late June or ear­ly July. Both par­ents take part in incu­ba­ti­on which lasts for about 25 days. The off­spring will lea­ve the nest after ano­ther seven weeks. They live on a wide sel­ec­tion of food, from small fishes and near-sur­face zoo­planc­ton to lef­to­vers from Polar bear’s meals and seal pla­cen­ta. Glau­cous gulls can be dan­ge­rous to eggs and chicks. Polar bears and Arc­tic foxes will plun­der nests on flat ground.

Mis­cel­la­neous: The glo­bal popu­la­ti­on was esti­ma­ted at 14,000 bree­ding pairs, most of them in the Rus­si­an Arc­tic, but a cen­sus in 2006 show­ed that recent num­bers are much smal­ler, around one third of the ori­gi­nal esti­ma­te. The reasons for this deve­lo­p­ment are unknown, alt­hough the decre­asing pack ice cover and envi­ron­men­tal toxins are belie­ved to be important fac­tors. Ivo­ry gulls from the Rus­si­an arc­tic were found to have high levels of PCB and DDE in their tis­sue.

Next to the ice-cover­ed sea, the sett­le­ments in Spits­ber­gen are actual­ly good places to see the ivo­ry gull, as they are often loo­king for food near places like rub­bish dumps, dogyards and sewa­ge water out­lets.

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last modification: 2018-09-11 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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