Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Iceland Gull - Larus glaucoides
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Iceland Gull is one of the more subtly "beautiful" of the gulls, it being somewhat dainty, though still being a gull nearly the size of a Herring Gull. It was not until the 1970's and 1980's that complete confirmation of this species was obtained in North Carolina, and for whatever reason, there was considerable controversy about a number of the earlier reports (sightings). However, its status since the 1980's has been well understood -- rare near the coast and accidental inland -- owing to better field guides and more birders seriously studying gull flocks in winter, at Cape Hatteras Point, at landfills, and at other sites near the coast. Its habitats and foraging behavior are very similar to those of other large gulls, being found around harbors, coastlines, the inshore ocean, fish houses, and landfills -- almost always amid large flocks of Herring Gulls. Before 2017 (see below), essentially all state records of Iceland Gulls could be assigned to the subspecies that breeds in North America -- L. glaucoides kumlieni -- known as the "Kumlien's Gull".

Around 1970, the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) split out Thayer's Gull (Larus thayeri) from Herring Gull. As field guides and other references were published later on, birders became familiar enough with field marks that records for Thayer's accumulated in the state, mainly along the coast, but a few from inland landfills and lakes. However, in 2017 the AOU (now named the American Ornithological Society [AOS]) lumped the Thayer's Gull into Iceland Gull (and not back into Herring Gull). There has been more recent discussion that the Iceland Gull complex -- now with three subspecies, from west to east -- thayeri, kumlieni, and glaucoides -- is quite uncomfortable. With the splitting out of a number of other gull taxa into full species in recent years (e.g., Mew Gull splits, Herring Gull complex splits), each of the three Iceland Gull taxa, each with different breeding areas and especially wintering grounds -- West Coast, East Coast, and Europe -- are deserving of being separate species.

For purposes of this website, the physiographic province information below is broken down into the two subspecies now found in the state -- "Kumlien's" and "Thayer's", though there is a summary opening sentence for the full species.

Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor, essentially coastal, with a preponderance of records from Cape Hatteras and offshore waters close to shore. Generally rare (though practically annual) in coastal waters, but practically unknown farther inland in the province.

Kumlien's: Rare from Carteret northward, being more "numerous" at Cape Hatteras Point than elsewhere; very rare along the southern third of the coast. Very rare to rare elsewhere in tidewater areas (salt or brackish water), including immediate offshore waters. Tends to be more numerous during severe cold spells. Accidental farther inland, with the only non-tidal record being of an immature along the Chowan River near Winton, 4 Apr 1983. Mostly mid-Dec to late Mar; casually from mid-Oct to mid-May, with a late record for 26 May. Peak counts: 5, Cape Hatteras Point, 2 Feb 2011; 3, Cape Hatteras Point, 12 Mar 1987; 3 at that site, 31 Jan and 4 Feb 2020.

Thayer's: Rare though possibly regular/annual at Cape Hatteras Point; casual to very rare elsewhere in coastal Dare (including Roanoke Island); only one record south of Dare, at Ocracoke Island. A few offshore records, on pelagic trips off Cape Hatteras. Mostly late Dec to mid-Mar; a few records from late Oct to late Mar. Peak counts: 3, Cape Hatteras Point, 17 Feb 2001; 3, Cape Hatteras Point, 16 Feb 2003. No farther inland records.

Piedmont Winter visitor; very rare, primarily to the eastern edge of the province.

Kumlien's: Very rare (but increasing), to the eastern edge of the province, with just three records farther westward. About 14 records/reports, all of single birds; dates range from 17 Nov - 12 Mar, with most in midwinter.

Thayer's: Casual, but probably overlooked. Four records, three from the Wake landfills: one first-winter bird on 4-6 Feb 1994 [Chat 59:34 link], and one (unspecified age) on 16 Dec 1995 [Chat 60:162 link] at a landfill in eastern Raleigh; and an adult at a different landfill site (north Raleigh) on 11 Feb 2006 [Chat 70:51 link]; and one photographed on the Southern Lake Norman CBC near Davidson (Mecklenburg), 18-19 Dec 2011 [Chat 76:58 link], [Chat 77:41-42 link].

Mountains No records.
Finding Tips To find Iceland Gulls (both taxa), you must have patience and some knowledge of gull identification, especially for Thayer's, which can be confused more easily with Herring Gulls than with Kumlien's Iceland. Normally, you must find large flocks of Herring Gulls; hundreds or more will usually be needed for an Iceland. Checking landfills and fish houses is a good way to look for Icelands, but the main rule is simple -- check all gulls along the coast, especially at Cape Hatteras Point. A number have also been seen in recent years following boats on pelagic trips off Cape Hatteras.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-14], LeGrand[2020-04-18], LeGrand[2018-06-09]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.