Sabine's GullXema sabini
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Laridae
Almost more of a tern than a gull, the little Sabine's Gull is a captivating seabird with a charcoal gray head edged in black, a red eyering, and a black bill with yellow tip. On boldly patterned wings that flash triangles of black, white, and gray, Sabine's Gulls swoop deftly over open ocean to seize crustaceans and small fish. In summer they nest in arctic tundra, splashing through freshwater pools to catch insects, spinning in shallow water like a phalarope, or dashing on mudflats like a plover.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Sabine’s Gulls breed in the Arctic, where they are very conspicuous if you can make it to their marshy tundra habitat. If you can't travel that far north, try a "pelagic" (offshore) birding trip from the West Coast to see migrants in autumn and to a lesser extent spring. They are seen considerably less often on East Coast pelagic trips. Some Sabine’s Gulls do migrate across interior North America and a few turn up on lakes and rivers annually, often after the passage of a cold front or storm.
- Gaviota de Sabine (Spanish)
- Mouette de Sabine (French)
- Cool Facts
- The first scientific specimen of Sabine’s Gull was found in 1818 at Melville Bay, Greenland, by Sir Edward Sabine, a remarkable Irish astronomer, geophysicist, and explorer who was part of Sir John Ross's first Arctic expedition that spring, an effort to find the Northwest Passage.
- When a predator threatens a Sabine’s Gull's nesting area, the gull performs a distraction display, pretending to be injured and leading the predator away from the nest. This tactic is common among shorebirds, but rare among gulls.
- The Sabine’s Gull’s closest relative is the Ivory Gull of the High Arctic. The two species diverged from a common ancestor about 2 million years ago.
- Sabine's Gull is the only member of its genus, and in some ways is more similar to terns than to other gulls.
- Among many other differences from typical gulls, Sabine’s Gulls have an unusual molt schedule. Juveniles don't molt into their first-winter plumage until they reach their wintering grounds in the Southern Hemisphere. Adults on the wintering grounds molt all their feathers before beginning their northward migration to the Arctic breeding. And they have a partial molt in late fall/early winter, once they've reached their wintering grounds.
- The oldest recorded Sabine's Gull was at least 8 years, 1 month old when it was captured and re-released during banding operations in Alaska.