Living Bird Magazine
Iceland GullLarus glaucoides
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
Iceland Gulls breed on narrow cliff ledges in the Arctic and forage gracefully over the water, often plucking fish from the surface without landing. Many winter in ice-choked Arctic waters, but some come south to the Northeast, Great Lakes, and West Coast. Their plumage is variable, especially the adults’ wingtips, which can range from pure white in the east to black in the west. The darker-winged “Thayer’s” gull of the west used to be considered a different species; the two were lumped in 2017.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Gull watching takes patience, but it can be rewarding. Unless you plan to explore the Arctic, you’ll want to look for Iceland Gulls in winter along Atlantic or Pacific coasts or around the Great Lakes. Iceland Gulls are fairly regular but they’re not numerous, so look for large groups of resting gulls and look through them for a medium-sized gull with very pale upperparts. On the East Coast, your task is a bit easier: you can look for a gull with white or pale gray wingtips (the “Kumlien’s” form). On the West Coast, look for the Thayer’s form: a bit smaller than a Herring Gull, with a more slender bill, heavily smudged neck, and sometimes a dark eye.
- Gaviota groenlandesa (Spanish)
- Goéland arctique (French)
- Cool Facts
- Iceland Gulls nest in the remote Arctic, on forbidding cliffs overlooking fjords. The sight impressed one early twentieth-century naturalist, who wrote that a colony of Iceland Gulls “afforded a memorable sight as in a restless cloud they wheeled hysterically in dextrous evolutions against the bleak facade of the great promontory.”
- The Iceland Gull has been a headache for taxonomists. It is divided into three subspecies, one of which (Thayer’s Gull) was considered a separate species until 2017. To give a sense of how confusing these gulls can be, Thayer’s was at one time thought to belong to a completely different species, the Herring Gull.
- The main difference between the Iceland, Kumlien’s, and Thayer’s subspecies lies in how dark the wingtips are in adults. Some western birds (Thayer’s) have fully dark wingtips; others in eastern Canada and Greenland (Iceland or "glaucoides" subspecies) can have fully white wingtips, and there’s lots of variation in between.
- The oldest recorded Iceland Gull was at least 4 years, 8 months old, when it was seen alive in the wild in eastern Canada and identified by its band.