Sabine's Gull

Larus sabini

27-32cm

Appearance

The markings of Sabine's Gull are distinctive, and it has a slight fork in its tail and long wings. During summer, the adult is blue-grey on its back and upperwings, it has a dark hood and dark wing-tips which have white dots and the bill is dark with a yellow patch on the tip. When flying, the upperwing pattern is characteristic of this bird; there are triangle-shaped areas of black, white and grey. During winter, adults lose the dark hood but have dark flecks on the nape. Juveniles have a pattern on the upperwing that closely resembles the adult's, but the grey triangle patch is a scaly grey-brown. The forked tail has a dark tip, the back of the head is greyish-brown, and the lighter margins of the back and wings give a scaly impression.

Habitat

Breeding takes place in the tundra of the high Arctic. It is predominately at sea during the remainder of the year. May sometimes be seen of headlands in the region's southwest, and in bad weather, it may be blown inland where it visits lakes and reservoirs.

Character

Can appear tern-like in flight. Nesting is colonial and this bird may feed in larger flocks, however when in the region, it's usually alone or in small groups. Can feed while flying by lowering to water-level and picking food from its surface, and also feeds when on ground.

Food

For majority of the year, small marine creatures and fish are the main foods. When on breeding territory, it eats invertebrates and fish.

Breeding

Not a breeding bird in Britain and Ireland; breeds in high Arctic. Female lays 2 or 3 eggs, often amidst colonies of Arctic Terns, and both adults incubate the clutch for 23-25 days. Both adults tend to the hatchlings.

Population

This is predominately an off-shore passage migrant that moves through British and Irish seas. It departs Arctic breeding grounds and crosses south-east over the Atlantic. Some gather in the late summer around the Bay of Biscay, and then move south long distances, making it to South Africa. There are between 100 and 200 sightings of these birds in the region each year.

Observation Tips

Majority of sightings of Sabine's Gull are recorded between August and October. Since these birds don't travel to shore habitually, they are best observed on boating trips; late summer is the best time to attempt this, and small numbers are known to occur off the coast of Cornwall. Alternatively, if lucky, an encounter with the species may occur closer to the coast in the southwest, particularly proceeding strong westerly winds.

Voice

Usually silent when in the region, but it does have a singular, shrill note.
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