Arctic species: Sabine’s Gull​

The last of the Arctic gulls that you can find on Spitsbergen is the Sabine’s Gull. Much rarer as the Ivory Gull, with only a handful pairs on the archipelago, it’s also a sought-after species. A little less so as the Ivory Gull, as Sabine’s Gulls migrate all the way to the South Atlantic, passing by the British Isles and sometimes even the North Sea. So the chances of seeing them ‘at home’ are greater compared to the Ivory Gull. However, seeing them in full summer plumage on their breeding grounds is also something special.

Displaying Sabine’s Gulls on Spitsbergen

Sabine’s Gull – Xema sabini
Length: 30-36cm, wingspan 80-87cm
The smallest species of gull in the area, flies a bit tern-like
The only gull species in the area with a black hood in summer
In flight, the black wingtips and grey back form a characteristic W-pattern


Where Sabine’s Gulls are easy to identify on Spitsbergen, with their black hood, small size and characteristic pattern on the wings, they are difficult to find. Sometimes one can be seen in the pack ice or near glacier fronts (Negribreen seems to be a good place), the best chance, however, is close to Moffen. This small island in the north is a nature reserve, you are not allowed to come within 300m, but with the use of binoculars or a telescope one or more individuals can often be seen foraging along the shoreline. They breed on stony tundra, often in Arctic Tern colonies, who provide protection from Arctic Foxes attacks.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.


  • The Sabine”s gull looks really familiar to me, strange, I’m sure I have never sen this bird but still it is so familiar, funny…..anyway, nice dance, thank you Arjen


    • Hi Mika! Yeah, I doubt you’ve seen this one, this is telescope work close to Moffen usually. and even then it’s a small dot usually…
      But it resembles the Black-headed Gull, which we don’t have on Spitsbergen, but is, no doubt, fairly common in Finland.

      And thanks again for taking me to those places. Without captains, I would never get anywhere 🙂


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