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A photo of a Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus)
Kelp Gull

Kelp Gull

Larus dominicanus

The Kelp Gull, known scientifically as Larus dominicanus, is a robust seabird with a commanding presence along the coasts and islands of the Southern Hemisphere. This species exhibits a striking contrast between its black upper parts and wings, and the pure white of its head, underparts, and tail. The wingtips are adorned with small white "mirrors," adding a touch of elegance to its flight. Adult Kelp Gulls have a yellow bill marked with a red spot and legs of a greenish-yellow hue, which become more vivid during the breeding season.

Identification Tips

To identify the Kelp Gull, look for its size, which is intermediate between the lesser and great black-backed gulls of the northern Atlantic. Adults typically measure 54 to 65 cm in length, with a wingspan of 128 to 142 cm. The bill and tarsus measurements are also distinctive, with the bill ranging from 4.4 to 5.9 cm and the tarsus from 5.3 to 7.5 cm. Juveniles can be recognized by their black bill, grey-brown plumage with whitish edges, and a dark band in the tail. They mature over three to four years, gradually acquiring the adult's pale bill base and predominantly white head and underparts.


Kelp Gulls favor coastal environments where they can be found on beaches, rocky shores, and islands. They are also known to frequent landfills, indicating their adaptability and opportunistic feeding habits.


The Kelp Gull has a widespread distribution across the Southern Hemisphere, with subspecies found in South America, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, parts of Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa, subantarctic islands in the Indian Ocean, southern and southwestern Madagascar, Antarctica, and Antarctic islands. The species is a rare vagrant to the United States.


Kelp Gulls are omnivorous and exhibit a variety of feeding strategies, including scavenging and actively hunting small prey. They have been observed engaging in unique behaviors such as pecking at the skin of living whales and dropping shellfish onto rocks to break them open. Their predatory tactics extend to attacking seal pups by first blinding them. The Kelp Gull's nest is a simple ground depression lined with vegetation and feathers, where typically 2 or 3 eggs are laid.

Song & Calls

The vocalization of the Kelp Gull is a distinctive and strident "ki-och," which can be heard echoing along the coastal habitats they frequent.


During the breeding season, both male and female Kelp Gulls take part in nurturing their young, which emerge from the eggs laid in the ground nests.

Similar Species

The Kelp Gull can be confused with the lesser black-backed and great black-backed gulls but can be distinguished by its size and specific plumage characteristics. The Cape Gull, a subspecies, differs by having a darker iris and a more angular head with a smaller, shorter bill.

Diet and Feeding

Kelp Gulls are versatile feeders, consuming a wide range of food from carrion to live prey. They are known to exploit human-created food sources such as landfills, which has led to population increases in some areas.

Conservation status

The Kelp Gull is currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, indicating that it does not face any immediate threat of extinction. However, its reliance on degraded environments and human refuse suggests a need for careful monitoring.

Kelp Gull Sounds

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