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Larus dominicanus (Kelp Gull, Southern black-backed gull)

Kelpmeeu, Swartrugmeeu [Afrikaans]; Ingaba-ngaba [Xhosa]; Kelpmeeuw [Dutch]; Goéland dominicain [French]; Dominikanermöwe [German]; Gaivota-dominicana [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Laridae > Genus: Larus

Larus dominicanus (Kelp Gull, Southern black-backed gull) Larus dominicanus (Kelp Gull, Southern black-backed gull)

Kelp gull, Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Kelp gull. [photo Jeff Poklen ©]
Larus dominicanus (Kelp Gull, Southern black-backed gull) Larus dominicanus (Kelp Gull, Southern black-backed gull)
Kelp gull juvenile. [photo Jeff Poklen ©] Kelp gull juvenile. [photo Jeff Poklen ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across most of the coastline of the southern hemisphere, at South America, sub-Antarctic islands, the Antarctic peninsula, Australia, New, Zealand, Madagascar and the coast of Africa. In southern Africa it is common along the coast of Namibia and South Africa while scarce in Mozambique, occupying a variety of marine and coastal habitats (including areas disturbed my humans)

Distribution of Kelp gull in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

  • Predators
  • Parasites
    • Avian cholera (Pasturella multocida)
    • botulism caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum

Movements and migrations

Juveniles disperse from their parent's territory once independent, often heading to west-central Namibia before returning to its natal territory after about a year.


Opportunistic forager and scavenger, with individuals differing in their diet preference, although it is usually consists of mainly invertebrates, especially mussels. The foraging techniques employed included the following:

  • scavenges food scraps dropped by fishing ships and Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus).
  • plucks food items (such as mussels) from the ground and water surface.
  • catches swarming crustaceans while swimming.
  • plunge-dives from 5 metres above water to catch riverine fish.
  • seizes unguarded eggs and chicks from the nests of seabirds.
  • treads in shallow water to flush prey.
  • catches ducklings attempting to cross open water.
  • mobs other birds and steals their food.
  • picks up food scraps from rubbish dumps, croplands, fishing harbours and abattoir.

The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Invertebrates
    • molluscs
      • mussels
        • Choromytilus meridionalis (Black mussel)
        • Aulocomya ater (Ribbed mussel)
        • Mytilus galloprovincialis (Mediterranean mussel)
      • Sepia (cuttlefish)
      • terrestrial snails
    • insects
      • alates of Microhodotermes viator (Southern harvester termite)
    • isopods
    • amphipods
    • crabs
    • echinoderms
    • polychaetes
    • sponges
    • Lepas (goose barnacles)
    • Jasus lalandii (Cape rock lobsters)
  • Vertebrates
  • Berries


  • Monogamous, territorial and usually colonial, although it may occasionally nest solitarily. Pairs typically stay together over multiple breeding seasons, vigorously defending their nest by dive bombing and defecating on the intruder.
  • The nest is mainly built by the male, consisting of a simple scrape in the soil lined with grass, twigs, kelp, mollusc shells, large feathers, jetsam and small stones, typically placed adjacent to a rock, boulder or wall. Alternatively it may be set into a guano pile or positioned on the roof of a building.
  • Egg-laying season is from September-January.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes 26-27 days.
  • The chicks leave the nest within a few hours of hatching and are brooded and fed by both parents, fledging at about 46-73 days old. They are dependent on their parents up to 12 weeks, although they may beg for food for up to 6 months.


Not threatened, in fact its has greatly benefited from the disturbance of habitats by humans, to such an extent that control measures were put in place in the early 20th century involving the shooting of adults and poisoning of chicks and eggs. These practices were discontinued in the period from 1960-1978.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.