Threatened black-billed gull set up breeding colony in Napier

One of the most threatened gull species in the world has set up a breeding colony in the heart of Napier. 

More than 200 black-billed gulls have made a local pond their home and it's prompted warnings from the Department of Conservation (DoC) for the public to stay away. 

Keiko Hashiba, a terrestrial ecologist from the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, said black-billed gulls are as threatened as any other species, like the North Island brown kiwi and even the kakapo. 

The black-billed gulls, which only live in New Zealand, landed on Pandora Spit in the Ahuriri Estuary in November and quickly started breeding.  

"I had kind of a panic stage because they ended up picking such a public space," Hashiba told Newshub. 

When the water level drops, people can walk onto the colony and that's a risk. 

Bernie Kelly, from DoC, has been monitoring the sea birds and says he's already seen some close calls. 

"People landing on that little spit there, landing on it with their kids and going right up to the colony, so that's not good at all."

The news isn't good because the black-billed gull population has declined massively since the 1970s  and numbers are still falling. 

DoC are pleading people to keep a safe distance. 

They say the chicks are like sitting ducks when the parents go to gather food. 

Kelly said people don't realise how vulnerable the chicks are.

"In other parts of the country, they've had everything from vehicles, people with slug guns, people walking through colonies crushing eggs."

The gulls will call Napier home until at least March, and it's hoped they'll be back next summer - but maybe somewhere a little more private.