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Sabine's Gull Xema sabini


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Sabine's Gull
credit: Alastair Rae/CCSA

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Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has gray back and upper inner wing coverts, and mainly white body plumage, except for dark gray hood. Unmistakable in flight: gray on upper wings contrasts with triangle of white on inner wing and triangle of black on leading edge of primaries. Legs are black, bill is dark with yellow tip; eyering is red. ADULT winter Similar, but head is mainly white except for hint of dark hood; seldom seen here, but molting birds (part way to winter plumage) are encountered regularly. JUVENILE Has pale-edged tawny gray feathers on back and inner upper wing coverts, creating scaly appearance. Plumage is otherwise mainly white, except for gray-buff markings on crown and nape, black wingtips, and black tip to tail. In flight, has similar upper wing pattern to adult (three contrasting triangles of color), but gray is replaced by tawny gray. Legs are pink and bill is dark.

Dimensions Length: 13-14" (33-36 cm)

Habitat Nests on coastal tundra in the high Arctic. Migrates down Atlantic seaboard and winters at sea, mainly in southern oceans.

Observation Tips Seldom seen from land, or inland, except during or just after severe weather, but found on pelagic trips, mainly Aug-Sep. Trips to Stellwagen Banks, off New England coast, are usually productive for this species and many adult birds seen in late Jul/early Aug still retain full summer plumage.

Range Western Canada, Eastern Canada, California, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Northwest, Texas, New England, Southwest, Plains

Voice Silent in our region.

Discussion Graceful gull with a readily diagnostic wing pattern, forked tail, and buoyant flight, reminiscent of a tern. Entire nonbreeding life is spent at sea, typically well beyond the sight of land. Sexes are similar.