red-billed and black-billed gulls

“The black–billed gull", says Travers, "breeds on the main river–bed, and one or more pairs usually frequent the lake after the breeding season is over. On one occasion a pair of these birds, having by some means or other lost their own brood, returned to the lake earlier than usual. I brought up a young bird belonging to another brood, and placed it on the lake, and the bereaved parents at once took to it, tending it with the greatest care and solicitude.

“It is extremely interesting to watch these birds in their ordinary search for food during windy weather. The prevalent winds blow either up or down the lake, and when seeking food the birds soar against the wind along the margin of the lake on one side, until they reach its extremity, when they at once turn and run down before the wind to the other end, from whence they again recommence their soaring flight. But the most singular circumstance is, that in the main valley they pursue various species of moths, which occur in large numbers amongst the tussock grasses, and especially in sedgy patches occupied by standing water. I could not for some time make out the object of their peculiar flight, but a friend of mine who was lately on a visit with me for the purpose of collecting the Lepidoptera of the district, whilst pursuing a large moth, observed one of these gulls swoop at and capture it. We then noticed that some five or six of the birds were busily engaged in feeding on the moths, pursuing them very much as other insectivorous birds would do.

“The birds which frequent the lake become very tame, one pair in particular readily taking a worm from my outstretched hand, and constantly coming close to the house for food. Nothing can exceed the pureness and delicacy of their plumage when in full feather. It is doubtful whether this kind ever visits the coast.”

black-billed and black-backed gulls
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

37 cm., males 300 g., females 250 g., grey and white, black bill legs and feet, black wing tips.

Where to find:  — 

Breeds on riverbeds and lake margins of South Island, Lake Rotorua, Ohiwa Harbour, and southern North Island coastal areas.

Poetry:  — Blacked-billed Gulls

Misty deserted seaweed arrives
look up and into sky,
clouds of Queens
pulling weathered ropes,
a red sky theatre royale
paradise of gulls it shows now,
Kelp unfurls with yesteryear,
stranded on barren beaches of knocked down batches crumbling hips
among the black-billed gulls who congregate, chanting squawking no
place to fly to but sing on overcast day.

— Sarah Watson 2006

Credit for the photograph: — 

Illustration description: — 


Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1888.

Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of New Zealand, 1873.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Travers, W.T.L., F.L.S., Transactions of the NZ Institute, Volume,IV, 1871. Notes on the habits of some of the birds of New Zealand. The notes were “chiefly compiled from observations made during periodical visits to my cattle station at Lake Guyon, in the Nelson Province.... ”

Page date & version: — 


Tuesday, 20 May 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.