Species Profile

Ross's Gull

Scientific Name: Rhodostethia rosea
Other/Previous Names: Ross’ Gull
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Nunavut, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2021
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v)+2ab(i,ii,iii,iv,v); C2a(i,ii); D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This small little-known gull nests at 1-3 known colonies in the Canadian High Arctic and likely winters in the Labrador Sea. Fewer than 20 mature individuals are known to breed in Canada, although roughly similar numbers may occur undetected. Large numbers of fall migrants seen annually off northern Alaska likely come from a separate large population in eastern Russia. This species has low productivity in Canada, with frequent breeding deferral, nest abandonment, and no chicks fledged over a period of 14 years at the only known active Canadian colony. These factors contribute to inferred continuing population decline. The abandonment of Low Arctic nesting sites since the last assessment has reduced its range and number of locations in Canada, and its breeding range is now limited to the High Arctic. Major threats impeding reproductive success include the killing of chicks by Arctic Terns at colonies, and contamination from airborne toxic chemicals. Effects of ongoing climatic changes on food availability, reproductive success and adult survival are largely unknown.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in April 1981. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 1996. Status re-examined and designated Threatened in November 2001 and in April 2007. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in May 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Ross's Gull

Ross's Gull Photo 1

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Description

Ross’s Gull is a small tern-like gull, 29 to 32 cm in length, with a buoyant flight. It can be distinguished by its wedge-shaped tail, red feet, grey underwing and narrow black collar round its neck. It has a dove-like head and a black beak. The sexes are alike. In breeding plumage, the Ross’s Gull has a pinkish colour on its head and body, with a deeper pink hue on its breast and belly. In flight, the dark grey of the wings contrasts with the broad white trailing edge. Young Ross’s Gulls have a broad black diagonal band across the inner wing, forming a broad white triangle on the rear wing, and a black tail band.

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Distribution and Population

Ross’s Gull is an Arctic species with a circumpolar distribution. It breeds primarily in northeastern Siberia, with scattered small colonies in Greenland, in the Svalbard archipelago, and in Arctic and subarctic Canada. In Canada, only four nesting locations have been found, three of them in Nunavut (Cheyne Islands, Prince Charles Island, Penny Strait) and one in Manitoba (near Churchill). Given the size of the Arctic and its harsh climate, some breeding sites have possibly gone undetected. This species likely winters along the edge of the pack ice in the Pacific Basin in the northern Bering Sea, in the Sea of Okhotsk, and in the open waters of the Arctic. The worldwide population is estimated at 50 000 birds. In Canada, the species is represented by small, scattered populations, and the total known breeding population in any given year is as high as 10 pairs and as low as none. Since 1980, the Churchill population has had a high of 5 pairs and a low of 1 pair. In 1978, the Cheyne Islands colony peaked at 20 individuals, and it is believed that 10 individuals occupied the unnamed island in Penny Strait in 2005. In 2006, 3 pairs were relocated on this unnamed island. The species appears to be in decline in Canada, but the small number of Ross’s Gulls that are found at any one site in Canada precludes analysis of population trends. Rescue (immigration) from the Siberian population is possible, although it is not known whether the population breeding in Canada constitutes a distinct breeding population separate from the one in the major nesting areas in Siberia.

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Habitat

Ross’s Gulls breed in widely varying Arctic habitats, from marshy tundra to gravel reefs. All sites are located near water and many are close to colonies of Arctic terns. The sites used in Churchill, Manitoba, consist of hummocks covered with grasses, lichens and dwarf willows and lower-lying areas of grasses and sedges with small pools and some shallow lakes. The breeding sites that were occupied on the Cheyne Islands and in Penny Strait were on low-lying gravel reefs close to polynyas—openings in the sea ice that attract birds in late spring.

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Biology

Ross’s Gulls breed in small colonies, often alongside Arctic terns. It is believed that the gulls reach reproductive maturity in their second year. Weather conditions affect the timing of nesting; in Canada, poor weather conditions in the spring may dissuade the birds from nesting at all in some years. Nests can be a depression in the ground or in a moss cup, or they can be located in sedge tussocks. Clutch size is usually three. Both parents participate in incubation, which takes about three weeks. In Canada, the chicks typically hatch in mid-July and they fledge about 20 days later. A number of predators, including glaucous gulls, herring gulls, Arctic foxes and polar bears, prey on Ross’s Gull eggs and chicks. Adult Ross’s Gulls are pursued by peregrine falcons. Ross’s Gulls are probably opportunistic feeders. At sea, the birds forage at the edge of the pack ice, where they feed mainly on invertebrates and small fish. During the breeding season, insects are a primary component of the gulls’ diet. After breeding, Ross’s Gulls move north into the Arctic Ocean, apparently using drift ice and shelf breaks as far north as open water areas can be found, up to the North Pole. There is a pronounced fall migration eastward past Point Barrow, Alaska, to feeding grounds in the Beaufort Sea in fall and a return movement westward in early winter in response to ocean freezing and foraging opportunities along the pack ice.

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Threats

Large concentrations of birds gather during fall in the Beaufort Sea, so oil drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas poses a potential threat. Breeding sites in Canada are relatively remote and are not at risk from industrial development at present; however, there are known significant oil and gas reserves in the Canadian Arctic that might be exploited some time in the future. In light of the rapid effects of climate change in the Arctic, any species that is adapted to this region should be considered to be facing an imminent threat. The presence of open water near nesting sites appears to be essential for foraging success, so annual ice and snow regimes are probably important factors in the ability of Ross’s Gulls to reproduce each year. It is not known what effects climate change could have on reproduction in Ross’s Gulls. Human disturbance at nesting sites in the popular Churchill area has caused some birds to abandon their nests.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Ross's Gull is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Ross’s Gull is protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, which prohibits the harming of birds and the disturbance or destruction of their nests and eggs. The species is also protected in Wapusk National Park of Canada under the Canada National Parks Act, although nesting has not been observed there.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date A recovery strategy for the Ross’s Gull is currently in the draft stage and is under its final reviews. The recovery action plan for this species is being developed and is expected to be completed in 2009. The recovery goal for the Ross’s Gull is to maintain the current population size and distribution in Canada. There will be no attempt to increase the number of breeding pairs at this time due to the fact that population numbers have likely always been low in Canada. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities Data on breeding success, current distribution, and number of pairs of Ross’s Gulls breeding in Canada is being compiled. Complete surveys of most known breeding sites are conducted annually and surveys of selected suitable habitat are conducted every five years. However, thousands of kilometres of suitable but remote coastal breeding habitat in Nunavut go unsurveyed each year. Summary of Recovery Activities Threats to the Ross’s Gull are being examined to determine the urgency and importance of recovery actions within specific locations. Management activities will then be used to lessen the threats and increase the chance of Ross’s Gull persisting in Canada. Education and outreach programs are being developed to raise awareness of the threats to and status of the Ross’s Gull. Conservation and stewardship activities and agreements are being initiated, developed, and implemented for some areas identified as critical habitat. Future management activities will address detrimental human activities, identify ways to provide viewing opportunities for birders and photographers without disrupting breeding, and encourage reporting of public sightings of Ross’s Gulls. URLs Environment Canada: Ross’s Gull:http://www.pnr-rpn.ec.gc.ca/nature/endspecies/sar/db08s17.en.html Surfbirds: Churchill, Canada:http://www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=166

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

10 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) in Canada (2007-08-29)

    Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) is a small, tern-like gull with a buoyant flight. It can be distinguished by a unique combination of a wedge-shaped tail, grey underwing and a narrow black collar that completely encircles the rather dove-like head. The sexes are alike. In breeding plumage, the head and body take on a rose colour strongest on the breast and belly. In flight, the dark grey of the underwing coverts contrasts with a broad white trailing edge to the wing. The immature plumage has black outer primaries and a broad black diagonal band across the inner wing, forming a broad white triangle on the rear wing, and a broad black tail band.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Ross's Gull (2007-12-04)

    In Canada, this species is known to occur in small numbers in very few locations. Threats include disturbance in some breeding areas and changes in ice and snow patterns associated with climate change.
  • Response Statement - Ross's Gull (2022-01-10)

    This small little-known gull nests at 1-3 known colonies in the Canadian High Arctic and likely winters in the Labrador Sea. Fewer than 20 mature individuals are known to breed in Canada, although roughly similar numbers may occur undetected. Large numbers of fall migrants seen annually off northern Alaska likely come from a separate large population in eastern Russia. This species has low productivity in Canada, with frequent breeding deferral, nest abandonment, and no chicks fledged over a period of 14 years at the only known active Canadian colony. These factors contribute to inferred continuing population decline. The abandonment of Low Arctic nesting sites since the last assessment has reduced its range and number of locations in Canada, and its breeding range is now limited to the High Arctic. Major threats impeding reproductive success include the killing of chicks by Arctic Terns at colonies, and contamination from airborne toxic chemicals. Effects of ongoing climatic changes on food availability, reproductive success and adult survival are largely unknown.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) in Canada (2007-11-20)

    The Ross’s Gull was officially listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003. Section 37 of the Species at Risk Act requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. Canadian Wildlife Service (Prairie and Northern Region), Environment Canada, led the development of this recovery strategy, in cooperation with the Parks Canada Agency, Manitoba Conservation, the Nunavut Department of Environment, and the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board. This strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41).

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007-08-30)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2020 to 2021 (2021-10-12)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 66 wildlife species, of which 4 were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 66, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 41 wildlife species; of these, 80% were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 826 wildlife species in various risk categories including 369 Endangered, 196 Threatened, 239 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 19 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 62 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 202 have been assessed as Not at Risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act - Terrestrial Species (2008-03-10)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 25, 2008 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 27, 2009 for species undergoing extended consultations.
  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species January 2022 (2022-01-10)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 640 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments by May 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry website at: The Minister of the Environment's Response to Species at Risk Assessments.

Residence Description

  • Description of Residence for the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) In Canada (2005-05-09)

    The following is a description of residence for the Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea), created for the purposes of increasing public awareness and aiding enforcement of the above prohibition. As a migratory bird protected under the MBCA, the Ross’s Gull is under federal jurisdiction and thus the residence prohibition is in effect on all lands where the species occurs. Ross’s Gulls are known to have one type of residence – the nest.
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