Family Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Least Concern

Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini)


French: Mouette de Sabine German: Schwalbenmöwe Spanish: Gaviota de Sabine

Larus Sabini


, 1819,

Sabine Islands [Upernavik Archipelago], Melville Bay, west coast of Greenland


Sometimes placed in genus Larus, but appears distinct enough. Subspecific variation poorly marked; species often considered monotypic. Four subspecies tentatively recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • X. s. palaearctica Stegman, 1934 – Spitsbergen E to Taymyr Peninsula and Lena Delta.
  • X. s. tschuktschorum Portenko, 1939 – NE Russia (Chukotskiy Peninsula).
  • X. s. woznesenskii Portenko, 1939 – NE Siberia (Gulf of Anadyr) to Alaska.
  • X. s. sabini (J. Sabine, 1819) – Arctic Canada to E Greenland.
  • Winters in SE Atlantic off SW Africa (Benguela Current region), and in E Pacific off NW South America (Humboldt Current region).

    Descriptive notes

    27–36 cm; 135–225 g; wingspan 81–92 cm. Two-year gull. Highly distinctive, with a slightly forked tail, unique upperwing pattern, and delicate, buoyant tern... read more


    A harsh “kirrr”, similar to Sterna paradisaea, is the most frequent call. Also has a call... read more


    Arctic tundra, breeding at wetlands with mosses and sedges; on Southampton I, Canada, breeds mainly... read more

    Food and feeding

    Invertebrates and small fish; occasionally small birds, eggs of Sterna paradisaea and of conspecifics; carrion; fish discards.... read more


    Returns to colonies in late May to early Jun, when tundra still snow-covered; lays mainly from Jun, depending on latitude and snow cover.... read more


    Trans-equatorial migrant, unlike the other two small Arctic-breeding gulls (Pagophila eburnea... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Global population estimated to number c.330,000–700,000 individuals and is thought to be stable . The Alaskan... read more

    Recommended citation

    Burger, J., Gochfeld, M. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 20 February 2020).