BIRD: linking the biodiversity community
The Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) is a very large gull native to the southern coasts of Australia and the nearby islands. Much larger than the ubiquitous Silver Gull, and nowhere near as common, Pacific Gulls are usually seen alone or in pairs, loafing around the shoreline, steadily patrolling high above the edge of the water, or (sometimes) zooming high on the breeze to drop a shellfish or sea urchin onto rocks.
Adult Pacific Gulls range from 58 to 66 cm in length, and are white with dark wings and back and a powerful red-tipped yellow bill. Young birds are mottled brown all over and attain their adult plumage only gradually: by its fourth year, a young Pacific Gull has usually become difficult to tell apart from an adult bird. Most Pacific Gulls sighted from land are young birds which have yet to claim a nesting territory on the off-shore islands the birds breed on.
There are two subspecies: the nominate eastern race prefers sheltered beaches, the western race georgii is commonly found even on exposed shores. Both subspecies nest in pairs or loose colonies on offshore islands, making a cup of grasses and sticks in an exposed position, and laying two or three mottled brown eggs.
The Pacific Gull is moderately common on coasts between Sydney in the east and Carnarvon in the far west. The total population is estimated at a little over 2000 breeding pairs, with about 400 pairs in Victoria, three-quarters of them nesting on the islands off Wilson's Promontory. However, it has become scarce in some parts of the south-east as a result of competition from the similarly large but more aggressive Kelp Gull.
The Kelp Gull takes the place of the Pacific Gull on most Southern Hemisphere coastlines outside Australia (including New Zealand, South America, and South Africa) and has self-introduced since the 1940s. Kelp Gulls reproduce faster than Pacific Gulls and it is feared that, left unchecked, Kelp Gulls will eventually occupy the entire southern coastline.