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Iceland Gull


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


Like many other gulls, Iceland Gulls have several calls. One known as the “main call” is a repeated series of two-parted “kee-ya” notes. It’s often used as an alarm call, and at nest colonies can spur the entire colony to plunge off their high cliff nests into the air. The “long call” is similar to (but shriller than) the classic, repeated series of calls that Herring Gulls give from dock pilings. They also give various shorter barking or mewing calls when taking flight or settling into the nest.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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