10 September 2018

Kelp Gulls at the John Ball Zoo

I spent last weekend on gull patrol in the Holland, Michigan region, but not without taking a short detour to the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. Why the John Ball Zoo? It is the last AZA Zoo in North America that has Kelp Gulls in its collection, making this a must visit destination for any gull enthusiast.

Male Kelp Gull - "Sunny".
Upon my arrival I met with David Blasziewicz who has been at the zoo for 22 years. David was a wealth of information and shared with me everything I wanted to know about these birds.

The remaining Kelps - two individuals, Sunny and Max - were actually collected in the wild as eggs on the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, hatched in San Diego, and eventually made their way to JBZ. They are now 35 years old, which almost surely is the longevity record for KEGUs in captivity.

Female Kelp Gull - "Maxine"

I was able to learn through David that the zoo has the birds on a North American photo schedule. The hours of light the birds receive is controlled by a computer, made to mirror what naturally occurs at this latitude. Thus, their molt schedules are on par with local birds in the wild. I asked David if any of the Kelps they've had at the zoo have ever escaped or successfully nested: No to both inquiries.

Here, Sunny is asserting his dominance, breaking out in a long call as he did every 10 minutes or so.

It's inevitable that these birds will eventually perish (from natural causes) and the zoo will in all likelihood not be replacing them. That's unfortunate seeing that this is the most widespread gull species in the southern hemisphere.

A very special thank you to David for taking the time to meet with me and tell me all about these special birds!