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Breakthrough: Wintering grounds of Ross’s Gull revealed at last

Ross’s Gulls ©2013 Bernard Grossman
Ross’s Gulls ©2013 Bernard Grossman

For the first time ever, researchers have successfully tracked the Ross’s Gull and identified one of its wintering areas.

The gull is one of the world’s least known seabirds. Since the first colonies were located in Siberia over a century ago, no more than one percent of the world population has been accounted for at known or suspected breeding sites, and no significant numbers of the bird have ever been documented during winter.

The gulls are known to congregate only in late September and early October off the frigid north coast of Alaska, particularly around Point Barrow, where they are seen in the tens of thousands while passing both eastward and westward.

See Ross’s Gulls at Barrow, Alaska, October 2013.

Researchers from the High Arctic Gull Research Group broke the news in a recent issue of Ibis, the quarterly journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union.

They write that they captured Ross’s Gulls at known breeding sites on a pair of tiny islands in Queens Channel, Nunavut, in the Canadian High Arctic, in 2011 and 2012, and outfitted the birds with geolocators and satellite transmitters.


The gulls ranged widely after breeding. One, an adult female tracked by satellite, flew to Wrangel Island, in the East Siberian Sea, and back over 27 days in June and July 2012, a round trip of 7,023 kilometers (4,364 miles). The gull wandered more than 40,000 kilometers (24,855 miles) in a year yet never went south of 50°N.

The tagged Ross’s Gulls wintered in an area of the northern Labrador Sea, in the northwestern Atlantic. No Ross’s Gulls had ever been recorded in the region before.

Confirmation of the wintering area, write the researchers, does not rule out that other wintering areas may be identified elsewhere. Rather, the findings “add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait form a critical wintering area for many species of marine birds (e.g. Little Auk, auks, Black-legged Kittiwake, Northern Fulmar, Ivory Gull), and collectively merit consideration for protected area status.”


Read the abstract

Mark Mafte, Shanti E. Davis, and Mark L. Mallory (2015) Confirmation of a Wintering Ground of Ross’s Gull Rhodostethia Rosea in the Northern Labrador Sea, Ibis, first published online April 11, 2015. doi: 10.1111/ibi.12261. Abstract.

A version of this article appeared in our August 2015 issue. Subscribe.


Originally Published