New Zealand's seagull population under threat with 'unbelievable declines'

Seagulls are under threat in New Zealand, belying the appearances of big groups at beaches and public areas across the country whenever there’s food going around.

New Zealand has three species of seagull - the native red-billed seagull is the most common - with some colonies experiencing “unbelievable declines”, the Guardian reported.

There are just 27,800 breeding pairs left across the country and the population of the major breeding colonies offshore have plummeted by between 80 and 100 per cent since the mid-1960s.

Graeme Taylor, a Department of Conservation scientist, said it was hard to break the perception when people see big groups of seagulls.

“Red-bill gulls have bad press because they are too friendly and too aggressive," he told The Guardian. "They do not endear themselves to people.

"People see these big groups of birds hanging around for food and think ‘they’re fine’, but in reality they have had quite a substantial decline and their decline is ongoing.”

The decline in population is linked to reduced fish stocks, meaning there is less food for chicks, less natural breeding grounds as coastal lands are used for livestock and agriculture and pests like rats and stoats eating young seagulls.

Seagulls’ ability to scavenge has also caused issues with chicks who grow up in summer being fed in summer, then often dying during the winter months as they never learned to catch their own food in the ocean.

Hoani Langsbury, the manager of the Royal Albatross Colony, told The Guardian that the seagull population would continue to decline unless people started caring about them in the same way they do the kiwi.

"These aren’t a pest, they are a key part of the marine environment out here on the edge of the Pacific," he said.

"We’re in discussions with schools at the moment to try and improve relations between young people and the seagull population, this is their natural environment – it is us that have to adapt to them."

"The seagull is inherent to the character of our beaches. It would seem a quiet, deserted sort of place if they were to disappear."