Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Sabine's Gull - Xema sabini
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Sabine's Gull is arguably the most beautiful gull in North America, and because it nests in the High Arctic and migrates to and from its South American wintering grounds essentially offshore, it is always a highlight to observe this species in the state. Its main northbound and southbound flights apparently are far offshore, as the species is normally seen only every couple of years on pelagic trips. Thankfully, small numbers do migrate over inland portions of the continent, and most birders have probably seen their first in North Carolina at a reservoir, even though there are few such records. There are also a handful of records from the immediate coast. This small gull seems to migrate in association with Arctic and Common terns far offshore, though it certainly can be seen away from these species.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient; essentially offshore, with a scattering of onshore records. Generally very rare in both spring and fall migration offshore, more likely in the vicinity of the edge of the Gulf Stream; also very rare onshore along the coast on the Outer Banks, mostly in the fall season, and casual onshore elsewhere. Mostly mid-May to the end of May, and late Aug to early Oct, with a "peak" in the middle of Sep. Out of season records are of one in southbound flight at Jennette's Pier (Dare) on 10 Jul 2022, with perhaps this same bird being seen on 11 Jul from the Hatteras Inlet ferry; an immature at Portsmouth Island on 18 Jul 1992; and an immature seen at Figure Eight Island on 8 Nov 1998. Apparently only three records away from the coast: one adult in breeding plumage on the White Oak River on 10 Mar 1983 [Chat 47:80 link], remarkably early for the species; one at Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson) on 1 Sep 2006 (after Tropical Storm Ernesto); and one over the Neuse River at New Bern (Craven), 2 Oct 2017. Peak counts: 3, off Hatteras Inlet, 18 Sep 1988; all other reports are of single individuals.
Piedmont Transient, in fall migration only. Very rare, with 11 records, all but two of single individuals: at Lake Norman, 4-5 Sep 1995; at Lake Norman, 12 Sep 2008; at Jordan Lake, 18 Sep 2004; at Lake Norman, 25 Sep 2003; at Lake Hickory, 30 Sep - 7 Oct 2003; at Salem Lake, 2-6 Oct 1976; two at Lake Norman, 23 Sep 2012; two at Lake Townsend (Guilford), 15 Sep 2017; at Falls Lake (Durham/Wake), 18 Sep 2018; at Lake Norman, 13 Sep 2020; and at Lake Norman, 16-18 Sep 2023.
Mountains Accidental; two records. One at Lake Junaluska (Haywood) on 8 Sep 2004 (after Tropical Storm Frances), and one at a pond in Transylvania on 10 Sep 2006.
Finding Tips The species is much too rare onshore to be hoped for, but taking a pelagic trip in late May or the latter half of Sep will at least give some hope (10% or less chance) for this stunning bird. A trip out of Oregon or Hatteras inlets between 15 to 20 Sep may be your best single bet (if any trips are scheduled after the Labor Day weekend).
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-03-13], LeGrand[2022-12-22]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.