Kelp Gull Fact File
The kelp gull is a large species of gull and one of the most commonly seen in the southern hemisphere.
Across most their underside, neck, head and tail the feathers are white. Across the back of the body and the tops of the wings are black feathers. A small white window is present on the wingtip. There is a white edge to the wing.
They have a yellow bill with a red spot on the lower tip.
The feet are colored yellow with webbing present between the toes.
Their body measures 54-65cm (21.5-26in) long with a bodyweight between 0.9 and 1.5kg (2-3.25lbs). They have a wingspan of between 128 and 142cm (50.4-55.9lbs).
The kelp gull is an omnivore. Their wide and varied diet includes invertebrates, amphibians, small mammals, berries fish and birds including those as large as geese.
This species has also been observed to parasite large animals such as whales by biting off bits of skin and blubber.
Kelp gulls will feed on the chicks of other birds such as the African penguin and cormorants.
They will take advantage of humans by foraging at fish factories and slaughterhouses.
Kelp gulls may also scavenge for refuse, sewage or carrion.
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Kelp gulls are one of the most widespread gulls south of the equator. Here they can be found along the coastline of South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.
Here they can be found in the following countries – Angola, Antarctica, Argentina, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Australia, Barbados, Bouvet Island, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Falkland Islands, French Southern Territories, Gabon, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Saint Helena, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay.
A small vagrant population established in the 1990s in North America with a population on an island off the coast of Louisiana. Some also travelled to Texas, Maryland and Indiana.
They are the only gull to remain in the Antarctic year round.
This species is found along the coastline in sheltered harbors, bays, inlets, estuaries, beaches and rocky shores. Most of their foraging occurs close to the the shore but they may follow boats as far out as the continental shelf.
Breeding takes place from late September until January. During the breeding season these birds become aggressive and will dive bomb any intruder.
These animals are primarily monogamous.
Nesting occurs in colonies with as many as several hundred pairs nesting in the same location. Some breed in a solitary location.
The kelp gull builds a bulky nest from dried plants and seaweed. This will be located on bare rock, sand or mud in well vegetated areas.
In to the nest they will deposit between 2 and 4 eggs. Both parents work to incubate the eggs over their 26-27 incubation period.
These chicks depend on their parents for 12 weeks but will continue to request food from the parents for up to 6 months.
Kelp gulls can inbreed with other gull species such as the herring gull.
Their vocalization is described as a yelping ‘yo-yo-yo’ call. This is popular in movies with coastal scenes.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the kelp gull include the black eagle and the great white pelican with both mainly focused on chicks.
Threats to the survival of the kelp gull include marine oil spills and bycatch in fisheries. Plastic ingestion and entanglement in fishing gear are further risks to the kelp gull.
A range of avian diseases present an increasing risk to the kelp gull.
Despite these threats this species is considered common and numbers are likely increasing as humans provide food.
Kelp gulls are one of the approximately 55 seagulls which are found around the globe.
Their name comes from their habit of feeding in kelp forests.
The species name for these animals, ‘dominicanus’ is thought to come from Dominican order of friars who would wear black and white habits.
An alternative name for the kelp gull is the black-backed gull.
By Flying Freddy at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26102014
By Michal Klajban – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51201517
By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46659369
By nomis-simon – 20090102-SJM_0697.jpg, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37490906
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Audubon. 2021. Kelp Gull. [online] Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/kelp-gull> [Accessed 14 March 2021].
Ocean Blue Adventures. 2021. Interesting facts on kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus). – Ocean Blue Adventures. [online] Available at: <https://oceanadventures.co.za/interesting-facts-on-kelp-gulls-larus-dominicanus/> [Accessed 14 March 2021].
Oceana. 2021. Kelp Gull. [online] Available at: <https://oceana.org/marine-life/seabirds/kelp-gull> [Accessed 14 March 2021].
Antarctica.gov.au. 2021. Kelp gull. [online] Available at: <https://www.antarctica.gov.au/about-antarctica/animals/flying-birds/kelp-gull/> [Accessed 14 March 2021].
Birdsinbackyards.net. 2021. Kelp Gull | BIRDS in BACKYARDS. [online] Available at: <https://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Larus-dominicanus> [Accessed 14 March 2021].
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