Larus dominicanus vetula
One of the most familiar seabirds in South Africa, Kelp Gulls inhabit a wide range of habitats along or near the coast, including harbours, bays, lagoons, estuaries, dams, lakes, rivers, streams and rocky and sandy beaches. They’ll also scavenge in large numbers at dump sites, food factories, abattoirs and sewerage works and have been recorded following fishing trawlers up to a 100km from the coast. Their natural diet is composed of marine invertebrates, fish, the chicks and eggs of other birds, small vertebrates, and carrion.
Adult Kelp Gulls have a wingspan of up to 1.4m, and weigh around 1kg.
Kelp Gulls are a gregarious species, occurring in large flocks throughout the year and breeding colonially during the southern spring and summer. Nesting colonies are usually located in hard to reach places, such as cliffs, rocky islands, exposed reefs, sandbanks and even on top of shipwrecks or buildings, where the bulky nest consists of dried plants, seaweed. twigs, shells, feathers and small stones. They’re very protective of their nests and will dive-bomb and defecate on any perceived threat, including humans. Pairs are monogamous and usually stay together through several breeding seasons. Clutches are usually made up of 2 to 4 eggs, which are incubated for about 4 weeks by both parents. Kelp Gull chicks fledge when they’re about two months old but stay with their parents for up to 6 months. They reach adulthood at between 3 and 4 years of age.
With an expanding population estimated at as many as 4,3-million, and a distribution range that spans much of the southern hemisphere, the IUCN considers the Kelp Gull of least concern. The race occurring in South Africa, also known as the Cape Gull, is considered to be a seperate species by some authorities and numbers at least 20,000 breeding pairs. They occur along the entire South African coastline and adjacent interior, though in lower densities along the coastline of Kwazulu-Natal than in the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape.