A FAMILY of kelp gulls has solved the problem of finding the ideal home for themselves and their offspring.
Forget the first-home buyer’s grant, they have merely taken to the life of stowaways aboard a small boat plying the d’Entrecasteaux Channel off Margate.
The fishing boat owners had got used to the kelp gulls roosting on their craft for a number of years, but were staggered one day last year to find that the gulls had built a nest on the upper deck, a large structure made of reeds and grass. What’s more there were two mottled cream and brown eggs in the nest and an attentive mother sitting on them.
The boat owners decided to let the kelp gulls be, believing that when they set sail at weekends the gulls would simply desert the nest and move on.
It didn’t happen. The gulls simply stayed where they were, enjoying a change of scenery as the boast potted up and down the channel between Kingston and Margate, and BrunyIsland.
It was only a matter of time before the eggs hatched – revealing two chicks last year, and three this breeding season – and the process merely continued, the adult kelp gulls following the boat and feeding the chicks out on the high seas when they found food.
It’s one of those bird stories that seem so improbable that I’d think that someone was pulling my leg – isn’t April fool’s day just around the corner? – but I happen to know the person telling it, and I could tell by the pictures accompanying the email this was a bird story that just had to be given air.
Here’s her email: “My brother-in-law has a fishing boat and all year round two kelp gulls live on it. They also have their babies on there. Yesterday we wanted to take the boat out to Bruny so we had to take the chicks.
“There was a smaller one in the nest on the roof and two bigger ones on the deck. When we left, mum and dad followed us down the river at Margate to the point where the fish farm is and left us.
“Then when we returned miles off shore they came back and met us in the same place. My brother in law says this is what happens every time when he takes the boat out with the chicks!”
The family also owns a small yacht along with the fishing boat, and it appears the three gull chicks have now moved out of home and are living on this.
The same thing happened last year, and there’s a suggestion the parents have given no thought to “empty nest” syndrome and kicked them out!
Every year I receive calls from boat owners complaining about the mess gulls make on their craft, and seeking advice on how to deter them. I’ve suggested flags or anything that flaps, but in this case the boat owners have shown a remarkable degree of tolerance.
The kelp gull is one of only three species of gull found in Tasmania, and is a relatively new arrival. It first bred here in the 1950s and is believed to have come from New Zealand, where the species is called the southern black-backed gull. Sub-species are also found in South Africa, and southern South America.
The other gulls found here are the ubiquitous silver gull, of course, and the largest of them all, the beautiful pacific gull, which is my personal favourite.
Whereas the silver and kelp gulls have learned to live in man’s world – being particularly found of raiding rubbish tips – the Pacific gull remains largely a marine species and is generally found on beaches. It can be separated from the similarly-sized kelp gull by its “crisper” white plumage and its flattened, orange beak that looks more like a pair of pliers.
The family playing host to the kelp gulls also have a Pacific gull story. A pair of the gulls lived on the jetty where the boats are moored, and would vanish for long periods of time (presumably to rear young). One day one of the gulls was seen to be entangled in fishing line and before the family could act, the gulls vanished again.
After a time one returned without its mate and, as the family put it, appeared “very lonely”.