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Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
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This species has declined rapidly in parts of its range, but its status in other areas is poorly known. A number of factors are likely to be contributing to declines, including climate change, pollution and increasing human intrusion or hunting within breeding areas. It is currently considered Near Threatened; but further surveys are required in order to clarify the true magnitude of declines.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

Distribution and population
Pagophila eburnea has a near-circumpolar distribution in the Arctic seas and pack-ice, breeding from north Canada through Greenland (to Denmark), Svalbard (Svalbard and Jan Meyan Islands (to Norway)) and islands off northern Russia. The Russian population is estimated to number in the range of 14,500-22,000 individuals, with recent surveys giving estimates of including 1,500-3,000 breeding pairs on Franz-Josef Land (European Russia), 5,000-6,000 pairs on Severnaya Zemlya; and 1,500-3,000 pairs in the rest of the Kara Sea Islands (M. Gavrilo in litt. 2007). Other populations include 500-700 individuals in northeast Canada (Hess 2004, Gilchrist and Mallory 2005), at least 4,000 individuals in Greenland (Gilg et al. 2009), and 350-500 pairs in Svalbard (Hess 2004, H. Strom in litt. 2007). Given these totals, the global population is perhaps best placed in the band 19,000-27,000 individuals. The population is possibly larger: extrapolations based on aerial estimates suggested up to 35,000+ between Canada and Greenland in 1978-1979 (Orr and Parsons 1982). The Spitsbergen population is probably decreasing (A. Volkov in litt. 2003), and breeding has apparently recently ceased on Victoria Island in Russia (M. Gavrilo in litt. 2007). Other Russian populations are apparently stable, although interannual fluctuations complicate the calculation of trend estimates. Recent surveys have revealed a drastic decline in Canadian populations, falling from 2,400 birds in 1987 to 500-700 birds in 2002-2003 (Hess 2004), representing an 80% decline in that period across the Canadian breeding range in all three known nesting habitat types (Gilchrist and Mallory 2005). The species seems to be declining in the south of its Greenland breeding range, while in North Greenland the trends are unclear (Gilg et al. 2009). Birds have disappeared from 13 known and three suspected breeding colony sites.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 14,500-22,000 individuals in the Russian Arctic, of which 2,500-10,000 are in European Russia, 4,000 on Severnaya Zemliya and 8,000 on Franz Josef Land and Victoria Island. Between 500-700 were recorded in northeast Canada in 2002-2003, and there are at least 4,000 individuals in Greenland and 50-200 in Svalbard. This givies a total of 19,050-26,900 individuals, rounded here to 19,000-27,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 12,000-18,000 mature individuals. The population is possibly larger: Orr and Parsons (1982) recorded aerial estimates of possibly more than 35,000 individuals between Canada and Greenland in 1978-1979, while del Hoyo et al. (1996) estimated possibly 25,000 pairs (75,000 individuals).

Trend justification
Trends difficult to estimate as colony size fluctuates from year to year, but sustained declines have been recorded in Canada. Further information is required on long-term trends in other areas.

This species is migratory (Olsen and Larsson 2003). It breeds between late-June and August (although most pairs do not lay until early-July, and some pairs may not breed if food conditions are unfavourable) in colonies of 5-60 pairs (rarely more than 100 pairs) (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It departs from the breeding grounds between August and October, returning late-February to early-June (Olsen and Larsson 2003). Most active migration occurs in November, with the first birds only arriving on the wintering grounds in December (Bering Sea, southeast Greenland, Davis Strait/Labrador Sea), and with birds from Greenland, Svalbard, and Russia arriving in sequence (Gilg et al. 2010). Most of the birds wintering in the Pacific are thought to originate from the largest Russian colonies - Kara Sea Islands and Severnaya Zemlya (Gilg et al. 2010). Between July-December they may travel 50,000 km on average, and even more for individuals that moved to the Pacific (Gilg et al. 2010). Outside of the breeding season the species is weakly gregarious, occurring singly or in flocks of up to 20 individuals (Snow and Perrins 1998). Larger numbers also gather in the spring at hooded seal Pagophilus groenlandicus whelping sites, where they feed on carrion and discarded placentae (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species also regularly follows polar bears Thalarctos maritimus to feed on scraps from their kill (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Habitat Breeding It breeds in the high Arctic north of the July 5oC isotherm (Snow and Perrins 1998) on broad upper ledges of steep, inaccessible coastal or inland cliffs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998) up to 300 m high (Snow and Perrins 1998), on broken ice-fields or on bare, level shorelines with low rocks (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). Non-breeding Outside of the breeding season it associates with the edges of pack-ice, showing a preference for areas with 70-90% ice cover (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet Its diet consists predominantly of fish, shrimps, shellfish, algae and carrion (e.g. seal placentae) (del Hoyo et al. 1996), feeding mostly by hovering and contact dipping in open leads in ice-filled waters, or scavenging on marine mammal remains (Gilg et al. 2010). Breeding site The nest is constructed of moss, straw and other debris on a snow-free area of rock (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Nest sites include broad upper ledges of steep, inaccessible coastal or inland cliffs (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998) up to 300 m high (Snow and Perrins 1998), broken ice-fields and bare, level shorelines with low rocks (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998). On cliffs, pairs usually nest within 10 m of the top in small colonies with inter-nest distances of 1-20 m (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

The species is thought to be declining due to changes in conditions on its staging or wintering grounds (e.g. more severe winters, changing sea-ice distribution and thickness) (Gilchrist and Mallory 2005). The species is hunted (Gilchrist and Mallory 2005). Potential causes of the decline identified in Canada include illegal hunting (Stenhouse et al. 2004), oiling at sea, disturbance of colonies due to escalating diamond exploration and/or increased nest predation, and toxic pollutants that bioaccumulate at high trophic levels (Braune et al. 2006). For example, concentrations of total mercury in eggs of Ivory Gulls collected from Seymour Island, Canada, have steadily increased since 1976 to levels which are now among the highest measured in seabirds (Braune et al. 2006), which may have had a long-term effect on breeding productivity (C. Miljeteig in litt. 2007). Potentially having the same effect, levels of PCB and DDT are higher in Ivory Gull eggs than in all other Arctic seabirds (Braune et al. 2007).

Conservation Actions Underway
A Norwegian-Russian project satellite tagged 31 individuals in 2007/2008 to assess movements at breeding grounds and their dispersal ability (Gilg et al. 2009). Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor population trends throughout the range, with particular emphasis on determining rates of decline in main breeding areas. Research the magnitude of threats facing all populations. Protect colonies from mining action.

Bangjord, G.; Korshavn, R.; Nikiforov, V. V. 1994. Fauna at Torynoy and influence of polar stations on nature reserve. Norsk Ornitologisk Forening, Klaebu.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Braune, B.M., Mallory ML, Grant Gilchrist, H., Letcher, R. J., Drouillard, K. G. 2007. Levels and trends of organochlorines and brominated flame retardants in Ivory Gull eggs from the Canadian Arctic, 1976 to 2004. Science of The Total Environment 378(3): 403-417.

Braune, B.M., Mallory, M.L. and Gilchrist, H.G. 2006. Elevated mercury levels in a declining population of ivory gulls in the Canadian Arctic. Marine Pollution Bulletin 52(8): 978-982.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Dement'ev, G. P. 1951-1954. Ptitsy Sov'etskogo Soyuza. Nauka, Moscow.

Dement'ev, G. P.; Gladkov, Y. A. 1951. Birds of the Soviet Union. Sovietskayz Nauka, Moscow.

Evans, P. G. H. 1984. The seabirds of Greenland: their status and conservation. In: Croxall, J. P.; Evans, P. G. H.; Schreiber, R. W. (ed.), Status and conservation of the world's seabirds, pp. 49-84. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, UK.

Gilchrist, H. G.; Mallory, M. L. 2005. Declines in abundance and distribution of the ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) in Arctic Canada. Biological Conservation 121: 303-309.

Gilg, O., Strøm, H., Aebischer, A., Gavrilo, M. V., Volkov, A. E., Miljeteig, C. and Sabard, B. 2010. Post-breeding movements of northeast Atlantic ivory gull Pagophila eburnea populations. Journal of Avian Biolog 41: 532–542.

Gilg, O.; Boertmann, D.; Merkel, F.; Aebischer, A.; Sabard, B. 2009. Status of the endangered Ivory Gull, Pagophila eburnea, in Greenland. Polar Biology 32: 1275-1286.

Hess, P. 2004. Ivory gull in trouble. Birding 36: 126-127.

Krajick, K. 2003. In search of the Ivory Gull. Science 301: 1840-1841.

Mehlum, F.; Bakken, V. 1994. Seabirds in Svalbard (Norway): status, recent changes and management. In: Nettleship, D.N.; Burger, J.; Gochfeld, M. (ed.), Seabirds on islands: threats, case studies, and action plans, pp. 155-171. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.

Mehlum, F.; Fjeld, P. E. 1987. Catalogue of seabird colonies in Svalbard. Norsk Polarinstitutt Rapport 35.

Olsen, K. M.; Larsson, H. 2004. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America. Christopher Helm, London.

Orr, C. D.; Parsons, J. L. 1982. Ivory Gulls Pagophila eburnea, and ice-edges in Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea. Canadian Field-Naturalist 96: 323-328.

Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Stenhouse IJ; Gilchrist HG; Montevecchi WA. 2004. Reproductive investment and parental roles in Sabine's gulls Xema sabini . JOURNAL OF ETHOLOGY 22(1): 85-89.

Thomas, V. G.; MacDonald, S. D. 1987. The breeding distribution and current population status of the ivory gull in Canada. Arctic 40: 211-218.

Tucker, G. M.; Heath, M. F. 1994. Birds in Europe: their conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Volkov, A. E.; de Korte, J. 1996. Distribution and numbers of breeding ivory gulls Pagophila eburnea in Severnaja Zemlja, Russian Arctic. Polar Research 15: 11-21.

Vuilleumier, F. 1995. A large colony of Ivory Gulls Pagophila eburnea on Victoria Island, Russia. Alauda 63: 135-148.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Fisher, S., Harding, M., Malpas, L.

Gavrilo, M., Miljeteig, C., Stenhouse, I., Strom, H., Volkov, A., Anderson, O.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Pagophila eburnea. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Laridae (Gulls, Terns, Skimmers)
Species name author (Phipps, 1774)
Population size 12000-18000 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 397,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment