Quick Facts

Wingspan: 3-4 Feet

Weight: 2-3 lbs

Population: Hundreds of thousands

Location: Subantarctic and Subtopical regions

Diet: Shellfish, invertebrates, fish, carrion

Nests: Bowls, mounds r scrapes in the sand lined with vegetation

Conservation status: Least concern

Description & Characteristics:

The Kelp or Dominican gull lives on the Antarctic Peninsula and at most sub-Antarctic islands, where it is resident year-round, generally in small numbers. They are also broadly distributed throughout southern Africa, Australasia and South America. A subspecies of the Kelp gull (Larus dominicanus vetula) is found along the southern African coastline. It is now considered sufficiently different from the principal race to be regarded as a separate species.

Kelp gulls have a white head, neck, underbody, rump and tail. The saddle and upperwing is slate-black with a white leading edge. The yellow bill has a rounded red spot at the tip.

Kelp gulls are opportunistic feeders, preying on and scavenging mollusks, fish, crustaceans, other seabirds, and even their own chicks and eggs. They will consume scraps scavenged from Giant Petrel kills, and will frequently raid penguin colonies. They are also known to feed on terrestrial invertebrates such as: earthworms, moth larvae and intertidal shellfish such as limpets.

These gulls nest on beaches, among rocks, grassy headlands, ledges, glacial moraines and offshore islets depending upon the location and suitability for feeding and breeding. Like most southern seabirds, Kelp gulls breed in the summer months; November to December in the subantarctic. They will produce up to three (though usually only two) mottled eggs in an open nest lined with grass, seaweed, sticks, shells or various debris. Eggs generally hatch in 23 to 30 days. Fledging occurs in 45 to 60 days, although chicks are still fed by their parents until after they can fly. Most Kelp gulls ultimately return to colonies where they were born.

No conservation problems are known to exist for this species at the present time. In fact, recent populations of Kelp gulls have increased in some locations perhaps due to human subsidies: trawler fish discards, scraps from fish processing plants, and coastal rubbish piles.

Did you know?

  • The Kelp Gull is the only gull of the Southern Ocean.
  • Kelp Gulls are aggressive predators taking every opportunity to rob other birds’ nests of both eggs and small chicks.

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