Population Studies on the Southern Black-Backed Gull
An account is given of ecological studies on the Southern Black-backed Gull Larus dominicanus Licht in which attention is directed to the structure and balance of the Wellington population. This population is large; in the 1963-64 season more than 5,600 pairs were breeding in the study area, and the peak non-breeding season population in 1964 exceeded 12,000 birds. Its growth has been closely associated with the increase of the human population, and the present distribution and dispersal of gulls is strongly influenced by the distribution of " artificial" feeding sites such as refuse tips and meatworks. The population is composed of breeding colonies, night roosting flocks and daily communal flocks which are inter-related by the social activities and dispersal of the birds. Thus the population is more or less integrated, rather than simply comprising discrete geographic units. Seasonal fluctuations in size and age composition of communal flocks are discussed. Breeding success varies between colonies. It is affected by mammalian predation in some, and by drowning in others, while the largest colonies are comparatively safe for breeding birds. The rapid growth of the whole population in the last five to 10 years appears to have some influence on nesting density, clutch size, spread of laying and overall breeding success. In recent years production of young has been twice that required to maintain the population which has grown at the rate of not less than 7.2% annually. Mortality of banded gulls inside and outside the colony is described and the influence of several factors on chick mortality examined. The principal factor limiting the population appears to be the food supply in relation to the number of birds. When numbers increase and the food supply diminishes, major regulation of the population is apparently achieved in the colony by predation (but not cannibalism) of young by adults. Dispersal of banded gulls from the Wellington colonies is very restricted.