Bird of the Week, December 30, 2011
Ivory Gull

Ivory Gull by Luke Seitz


A petite, all-white gull, the Ivory Gull is found only in high Arctic regions. It feeds mainly on fish and invertebrates, but like other gulls is highly opportunistic, scavenging carrion from polar bear kills, offal from whales, walruses and seals, and garbage from human settlements.


Although the Ivory Gull favors remote locations, it is not immune to human-generated threats. Studies in Canada showed a 70% decline in its breeding population between 1987 and 2005. Climate change continues to degrade the pack ice that comprises an important part of its wintering habitat. Drilling and mining operations, oil spills, and illegal hunting also pose significant threats.  Toxic pollutants accumulate in Ivory Gulls when they feed on contaminated prey - analyses of their eggs have found high levels of mercury, which may affect the species’ productivity.


An article published on eBird last year noted an increasing number of vagrant Ivory Gulls, which may hint at increasing environmental problems in their wintering areas.



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Photo: Luke Seitz; Range Map, NatureServe