Over the past two weeks dozens if not hundreds of birders from New York and nearby states have traveled to Rouses Point to see an Ivory Gull, one of the rarest birds in the U.S. With its striking white plumage and blue-gray, orange-tipped bill, an adult Ivory Gull is also one of the most subtedly beautiful birds in the world.
Ivory Gulls spend most of their time feeding along the edges of the pack ice in the Arctic Ocean, where they search for food, only rarely venturing further south than coastal Laborador and Newfoundland. Feeding mostly on small fish, Ivory Gulls also search out and scavange the carcasses of seals killed by polar bears. The Rouses Point bird seems to have been enticed to remain for a couple of weeks by handouts from ice fishermen.
The delight in seeing this rare visitor from the Arctic is tempered by reports from Canada, once home to 20 to 30 percent of the global population of Ivory Gulls, that the species has declined there by 80% in the past 20 years and is now considered Endangered. As few as 200 Ivory Gulls are projected to remain in Canada by 2015 (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=50). One has to wonder if an increase in sightings the past two winters in U.S. waters is related to degradation of its foraging habitat in its normal winter haunts along the southern edge of the thinning and shrinking Arctic pack ice.
Photo: Ivory Gull at rouses Point by Larry Master. Additional images of the Rouses Point bird are viewable and downloadable at www.masterimages.org/Birds/Ivory%20Gull/index.html.