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Iceland Gull Life History


ShorelinesIceland Gulls breed in large colonies on rocky cliffs and fjords in the remote Arctic, sometimes up to a few miles inland. They winter mainly along seacoasts where they forage close to shore, on beaches, and sometimes on lawns, agricultural fields, and garbage dumps (although they are less attracted to dumps than other gull species).Back to top


OmnivoreIceland Gulls eat mainly fish that they pick from the sea surface. They also eat mussels, snails, large zooplankton, carrion, offal in harbors, fishing discards, and occasionally garbage. They sometimes raid the nests of other birds such as Thick-billed Murres, eating both eggs and young. They may also eat terrestrial plants, algae, and berries in late summer.Back to top


Nest Placement

CliffIceland Gulls breed in colonies of 50 to 100 nests, typically placed on narrow cliff ledges that can be more than 1,000 feet high. They sometimes nest among the rubble at the bases of cliffs or on rock islands.

Nest Description

They build a shallow bowl of moss, grass, and feathers, the vegetation often collected from snowmelt areas near the top of the nesting cliff. They sometimes reuse old nests.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.4-3.0 in (6.1-7.6 cm)
Egg Width:1.8-2.0 in (4.5-5.1 cm)
Incubation Period:24-26 days
Nestling Period:42-52 days
Egg Description:Pale grayish brown, spotted and blotched with dark brown.
Condition at Hatching:Alert and mobile. Covered in mottled down.
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Aerial Dive (water)Picks food off surface of water, often without landing, and swallows prey while flying. Their graceful, low flight over the water as they search for food is different from the more lumbering flight of Glaucous and Herring Gulls.Back to top


Low Concern

Because Iceland Gulls breed in the far north, there is little information on population trends. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population is about 220,000 birds. They rate the species a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means the species is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List. Some colonies were extensively and repeatedly hunted by native Greenlanders in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but many colonies were spared because of their inaccessibility. Iceland Gulls appear to be particularly sensitive to oil spills, possibly because their habit of taking food in flight from the sea surface makes it easier for them to pick up oil-covered food items.

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Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl (2002). Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, DC, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Snell, Richard R., Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. (2018). Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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