“Paranormal” investigator: There are aliens on Earth.

You can’t always spot them, because they take different forms. But the subtle signs are there. Like with you, xeme. You may look like a seagull, but I’m on to you.

Xeme: Er, about what?

“Paranormal” investigator: That you’re an alien! And I can prove it.

Xeme: You’re going to stand here talking to a seagull, and I’m the weird one? In fact how exactly are you talking to me?

“Paranormal” investigator: Don’t change the subject! I know you’re an alien, because just like them, you creepily disguise yourself as another species.

Xeme: …As a seagull?

“Paranormal” investigator: No! Those other birds, the terns! You act just like them!

Image by jon57

Xeme: So I look like a seabird, so I can disguise myself as another kind of seabird? Sure, it’s either that, or we just copy our neighbours’ way better way of feeding while flying.  And if they don’t breed, we don’t, because duh, there’s obviously not enough food to go around.

“Paranormal” investigator: There is for you, because you eat their babies! Betraying your true nature!!

Xeme: Maybe, in between all the fish and worms. We tend to eat whatever’s around. You’re going to have to try harder than that.

“Paranormal” investigator: Okay then, your name begins with “X” and you’re the only one of your so-called genus.

Xeme: Well we’re actually called “Sabine’s gull” after some naturalist, and “X” isn’t a weird letter in every language, you Earth and space racist. And we do have a relative, the ivory gull. We just took a different route to them 2 million years ago.

“Paranormal” investigator: Yes…a long enough time to develop space travel and come back again!

Xeme: Why would we come back here if we could escape? Have you seen what’s happening to your oceans? That would be bird-brained.

“Paranormal” investigator: Ha – the same reason you migrate to the southern hemisphere in winter – only one other New World gull does that, by the way, suspicious – and north again in spring, so you can feast on the goods!

Xeme: Isn’t that what every animal does? Go where the food is?

“Paranormal” investigator:…Well I’ll tell you something every animal doesn’t do – vanish during their teen phase, unless they’ve made some sort of cocoon…or are reporting back to the mother ship!!

Xeme: Well my younger years are a blur, but it was probably over the sea, where it’s safer from predators. Again, lots of gulls do that. Besides, you know enough to call us a “two-year bird” because of how long our adult feathers take. We can’t be that mysterious.

“Paranormal” investigator: Is that so? Well answer me this: how come the first ever specimens of your kind went missing and were never recovered?

Xeme: Oh, those. We beamed them back up to our ship.

“Paranormal” investigator: What?!

Xeme: Human incompetence, you idiot. Wasn’t Sabine the same guy who told Ross to turn back, when they were literally in front of that North-West Passage they were all looking for? And he didn’t know much about preserving birds, and didn’t really want to hand them over. So they probably got lost in transit.

“Paranormal” investigator: YOU HAVE A SPACESHIP?!

Xeme: I…yes. In my Southeast Passage. Careful, it’s covered in a black and white “space goo” that seems strangely familiar.

“Paranormal” investigator: Okay that proves it. After the hyperdrive detonation apocalypse, even our most tasteless comedians wouldn’t joke about a spaceship in that type of orifice. Hey, Zakkroxxxynok! Put away the space probe. He’s not one of us after all!

You have a surprising amount of knowledge about human history though. Are you one of those demonically possessed animals that knows all and speaks in the tongue of man?

Xeme: Oops, gotta go.


Latin: Xema sabini

What? Small black and white seagull with a yellow bill tip.

Where? Coastal areas pretty much worldwide except Antarctica. It tends to breed in the northern and overwinter in the southern hemisphere.

How big? Wingspan 81-92 centimetres / 31-36 inches

Endangered? Nope, there are enough of it and in enough places for it to be Least Concern.

Probable motto: I’m technically a seagull, but do a good “tern” as another species!

They sound interesting. Do they need my help at all?

Any Arctic dweller is vulnerable to climate change, unfortunately, but there are no other specific threats to the xeme. Its eggs are sometimes collected, and it’s also shot in parts of Russia (seriously, who hunts seagulls??), but neither make a big enough dent to cause trouble.

Just to prove I’m not fibbing:

BirdLife International. 2018. “Xema sabiniThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” 2018: e.T22694479A132555511.

Burger, J. et al. 2019. “Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)“. In: del Hoyo, J. et al. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

GrrlScientist. 2011. “Mystery bird: Sabine’s gull, Xema sabini“. The Guardian.

Maftei, Mark et al. 2015.”Assessing regional populations of ground-nesting marine birds in the Canadian High Arctic“, Polar Research 34(1),

Mallory, Mark L. et al. 2018. “Adult survival of Arctic terns in the Canadian High Arctic“, Polar Research 37(1),

Royal Museums Greenwich. No date. “HMS Erebus and Terror“. Rmg.co.uk.

Sabine, Joseph. 1819. “XXXII. An Account of a new Species of Gull lately discovered on the West Coast of Greenland“, Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, Volume os-12(2):520–523.

Sabine’s Gull (Xema sabini)”. No date. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online.

Sweet, Jessie M. 1974.Robert Jameson and the explores: The search for the North-West Passage part I“, Annals of Science, 31(1): 21-47.

Featured image credit: Xema sabini“, by Blake Matheson.