Ivory Gulls are found across northern Canada, Greenland and the western European Arctic year-round. From September to May they winter in Davis Strait, Nunavut, along the southern edge of the pack ice. They move to the High Arctic in late May and then into their nesting colonies in June.
In Canada, Ivory Gulls currently only nest in Nunavut. They once nested on Prince Patrick Island in the Northwest Territories, but this site has been abandoned since its initial discovery in the 1800s. In the Northwest Territories, Ivory Gulls are uncommon migrants in the Beaufort Sea.
Typical habitat for Ivory Gulls includes pack ice or areas of open water surrounded by ice (polynyas). The Ivory Gull is an uncommon migrant in the Beaufort Sea and may winter in offshore leads (fractures in the sea ice exposing open water) in some years.
Ivory Gulls nest in Nunavut on windswept plateaus, ice-choked islands, or on steep cliffs of mountains protruding from glaciers. The size of nesting colonies ranges from a few to 200 pairs. The female Ivory Gull lays one to three eggs.
Large expanses of the western arctic are apparently unsuitable for nesting Ivory Gulls because there is no ice-free ocean regularly available when the birds arrive to breed. Furthermore, the flat vegetated landscape of these islands supports predators of the Ivory Gull, such as foxes.
Ivory Gull populations have declined by more than 70% since the 1980s and this decline may be attributed to illegal harvest in Greenland, high levels of certain contaminants in their foods, and degradation of ice-related feeding areas as a result of climate change.
Potential threats to Ivory Gulls in the NWT include human disturbance and pollution at marine feeding and resting areas, contaminants affecting the food they eat, and degradation of marine feeding areas as a result of climate change. Potential threats at nesting colonies include human disturbance and human activities resulting in increased numbers of predators (foxes, ravens and other gulls) near colonies.
COSEWIC assessed Ivory Gull as Endangered in 2006 and again in 2023. Ivory Gull was listed as Endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2009. The SARA provides protection for individual Ivory Gulls and their residences. Some Ivory Gull nesting sites in Nunavut are identified and protected as critical habitat. Ivory Gulls and their nests are also protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.
A national recovery strategy for Ivory Gull is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.