Kelp Gull

Larus dominicanus

Adult Kelp Gull
Adult Kelp Gull. Photo: John Spiers

The Kelp Gull is a cosmopolitan and expanding species found in the southern hemisphere. It is one of relatively few species that has benefitted from the activities of man. A relatively newcomer to Australia having colonised the country from New Zealand. It was first recognised in 1943 and the first breeding was recorded in 1958. In South Australia it is currently confined to the southern half of the south-east. It can be confused with the Pacific gull. See the account for that species for the differences between the two.


A large gull with a white head, neck, body and tail. The upper-wings are black with a broad, white trailing edge, white primary tips and a small “mirror” on P10. The bill is yellow with a red spot on the lower mandible. The iris is yellow with a red to orange-red orbital ring. The legs and feet are greenish-yellow. The sexes are alike. In non-breeding plumage the bill and legs are duller.

It goes through a series of four moults to reach the adult plumage:

Juvenile plumage: dark brown upperparts with pale edges to feathers, blackish primaries and tail, brown face with paler collar, bill dark and legs brownish.

First winter: head, neck and underparts whiter; mantle and scapulars grey-brown, bill dull flesh with black tip.

Second winter: Greyer above, tail still black with white central feathers, bill dark and legs grey.

Immature Kelp Gull
Immature Kelp Gull. Photo: John Spiers

Third winter: Black saddle and upperwing but now much white on rump and tail, bill colour like adult but with blackish sub-terminal markings.

Like most gulls has a highly varied diet. Natural foods include molluscs (frequently dropped from a height to break the shell), fish, echinoderms, worms, arthropods, reptiles, amphibians, birds and their eggs. Also eats much food from a human source such as fish offal, rubbish, sewage and carrion. Steals food from terns and other birds.

Breeds from September to December. Usually nests colonially. The nest is placed on a sandy or rocky surface often with tree, bush or rock to shield against prevailing winds. The nest is bulky and constructed of dried plants, seaweed and feathers depending on availability of material. The clutch consists of 1 to 3 eggs.

Where to find it.

The Kelp Gull may be found along the marine shores of the mainland, Kangaroo Island and some smaller islands but is a rare species. It is most likely to be found in the South-East of South Australia, but even there it is uncommon.

Kelp Gulls are mainly to be found in coastal regions including coastal waters. In other parts of the world they often visit inland lakes. Some Australian populations are reported to be migratory or dispersive, moving northward to Queensland post-breeding, while others are resident.


The subspecies found in South Australia is the nominate race Larus dominicanus dominicanus (M.H.K. Lichtenstein, 1823).

Updated: 12/09/2020


Where to find it