Ivory Gull
(Pagophila eburnea)


Picture of bird
© Glen Tepke (www.pbase.com/gtepke)
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

Ivory Gulls breed in some of the most remote reaches of the Canadian High Arctic. However, despite their remote and inaccessible range, their population has been intensively monitored. Ivory Gulls have decreased in abundance in Canada by 80% or more since about 1970. These large declines in an already small population led to a change in assessment from Special Concern to Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC 2006h). The species faces a considerable risk of mortality from hunting in Greenland, and is also known to carry dangerously high levels of contaminants. Ivory Gulls are associated with sea ice at all times of year, so retreating ice cover may also be affecting current populations. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Endangered2006 
SARA (Canada)Endangered2009 
IUCN (Global)Near threatened2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow R2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Critically imperiled2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseHighBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada500 - 1,000 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

Conservation and management

Banding studies revealed that Canada’s Ivory Gulls faced considerable mortality from hunting in Greenland, such that it may have contributed to population declines (Stenhouse et al. 2004, COSEWIC 2006h). The International Ivory Gull Conservation Strategy and action plan (Gilchrist et al. 2008) was developed in response to the population declines, and harvest in Greenland has since been curtailed. Ivory Gulls occupy a high trophic level and have the highest egg mercury concentrations recorded for any Arctic bird. These high concentrations may impair reproductive success (COSEWIC 2006h). Retrospective analyses found that methyl mercury concentrations for Ivory Gulls increased by a factor of 45 between 1880 and 2004, despite no change in the gulls’ diet, suggesting anthropogenic sources for the increased contaminant concentrations (Bond et al. 2015). For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view available recovery documents, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Arctic Plains and MountainsArctic Plains and Mountains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other
Gulf of St. LawrenceGulf of St. Lawrence, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Other
Gulf of St. LawrenceGulf of St. Lawrence, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Other
Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves , sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Other
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Other