Appropriately named, the ivory gull is a small, white bird with black eyes and short, black feet that is found in the Arctic along northern Canada and Greenland. The bird is 17 inches (about 43 cm) long, weighs up to 24 ounces (about 687 g.) and possesses a wing span of up to 47 inches (about 120 cm.). The ivory gull typically makes its home on packs of ice and has a lifespan of up to 20 years.
Scientifically known as Pagophila eburnean, the gull becomes sexually mature after its second year, when it develops its distinctive white plumage. Males and females attract each other through mating calls, body language, and ritual feeding. When gulls find a mate, they are monogamous to each other. Breeding often occurs along rocks and cliffs near ice flows.
Both males and females aid in building a nest consisting of moss, seaweed, and grass. Females typically lay up to three eggs, which are dark or pale brown in color. Both sexes incubate the eggs, which hatch in less than a month. Upon hatching, the young are covered in white down and can feed themselves within three weeks. Within two weeks the birds are able to fly.
Living in the frigid temperatures of the Arctic, the ivory gull requires plenty of calories to meet its energy requirements. The gull will dig holes in snow and soft ice to protect itself from the freezing winds of the Arctic. An opportunistic feeder, an ivory gull often consumes the carcasses of dead fish and marine creatures. The gull often will act as a scavenger, stealing prey from other birds, and also will look for feeding whales to scoop out animal plankton from the water. The diet of the gull also includes lanternfish, squid, lemming, and cod.
Ivory gulls migrate around the flow of ice. After the breeding season, the gulls travel to the open seas where food is more plentiful and follow growing ice flows. The birds may migrate by themselves or with dozens of other gulls.
An endangered species, the ivory gull’s numbers are hindered by predators and weather. Polar bears and arctic foxes are creatures that threaten the gull population by eating all of the eggs and chicks in a colony. Caribous also threaten nests of gulls during the winter and spring. Harsh Arctic storms can also wipe out populations of adult gulls. Other disturbances, such as low flying aircraft, can cause the gulls to desert their eggs.