Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

New Zealand: Red-billed gull

with 41 comments

In the last year and a half we’ve taken five trips averaging a little over three weeks each. It became common for me not to have finished showing pictures from the most recent trip before we launched into the next one, whose photographs then clamored in their turn to be shown as soon as possible. The result is that some worthy pictures never appeared in these pages. From time to time I’ll spring one or several on you.

Today’s first photograph, taken on February 13th, shows a somewhat put-out juvenile red-billed gull (Larus novaehollandiae) in the village of Mangonui, on New Zealand’s North Island. Below is a sub-adult of the same species. Colin Miskelly of the Te Papa Museum, who identified these birds for me, pointed out that “It is common for gulls and other shorebirds to stand on one leg, mainly to conserve body temperature.”

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 20, 2017 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

41 Responses

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  1. I have often wondered why gulls stand on one leg. Now I know. Now I am wondering if the one leg warming trick would work for humans?


    November 20, 2017 at 4:55 AM

  2. what a beauty!


    November 20, 2017 at 5:15 AM

  3. Gorgeous images! Amazing how with so many bird species the eyes change as they become adults and how it can be varied with gender as well. Chickens actually do the one-leg stand. I’m not sure humans could pull that off for very long without losing their balance!


    November 20, 2017 at 6:41 AM

  4. Beautiful shots – looks like he/she is telling somebody something!!


    November 20, 2017 at 7:20 AM

    • I think that first one was telling me to go away — or else wanted me to toss some food its way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2017 at 8:12 AM

  5. Beauties! I love the clarity. My, what big feet they have! I think of the word “perfection” when I look at birds
    because they are so good at keeping their feathers neat and oiled.


    November 20, 2017 at 7:33 AM

  6. I grew up near Mangonui. There were always plenty of gulls in the town!


    November 20, 2017 at 11:22 AM

    • And plenty of gulls were there on the day we visited. The two shown in this post stood on the main street. I also photographed a gull on the inclined trunk of a pohutukawa tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2017 at 11:34 AM

      • I miss pohutukawa trees.

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 20, 2017 at 11:35 AM

      • Ah yes, the pohutukawas! They are stunning there on the waterfront when they’re in flower!


        November 20, 2017 at 11:47 AM

        • Both of our visits were in February, so I’ve never seen the pohutukawas flowering in person, only in pictures. I’m still fond of these trees for the way they grow and how they manage to cling to precarious cliffs.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 20, 2017 at 5:43 PM

        • I had to look up an image of the pohutukawa tree because of this discussion.
          It is an absolutely stunning tree when in flower! 🌳🌺
          Now I have another reason to want to visit New Zealand 🙂

          My Small Surrenders

          February 13, 2019 at 3:30 PM

          • Fortunately, it’s easy to rack up reasons for visiting New Zealand. Pohutukawa trees were among my favorite subjects. I hope you get there soon.

            Steve Schwartzman

            February 13, 2019 at 3:39 PM

            • Thank you!
              New Zealand & Australia have been on my list of places I want to visit for ages. Unfortunately, now I’ll have to find some way to figure out if I can cope with the length of the flight(s) because of my health challenges.
              Maybe I can find a way to get there by boat? 🤔

              My Small Surrenders

              February 13, 2019 at 4:07 PM

              • We flew non-stop from Houston to Auckland, and you’re right that it’s a long flight: 15 hours. I found it hard to get any sleep. Of course you could combine several shorter flights, perhaps with time to rest up in each intermediate place. I’ll bet there’s a way to go by sea, though it would take a long time. I don’t know where you’d be departing from, but here’s an example I found from the west coast of the United States:


                One other observation: there’s so much to see in Australia and New Zealand that I wouldn’t try to hit both on the same trip.

                Steve Schwartzman

                February 13, 2019 at 5:52 PM

                • Oh my goodness!
                  It is so incredibly kind & sweet of you to take the time to think about this & locate this information for me 🙏

                  I’m on the East Coast so there would be a lot of hours added to the 15 you took, whichever way I decided to fly — I believe it’s actually 24 hours of flying each way.
                  My initial thought was to plan a few stop-overs on the way there & back. Also, I agree that I wouldn’t visit both countries in the same trip.

                  Thanks again for finding this info. I’m definitely going to take a look at the possiblities 😀

                  My Small Surrenders

                  February 13, 2019 at 7:41 PM

                • On a freighter you’d spend the bulk of your time out in the ocean just getting to your destination and then back home, so it does seem that flying with stopovers would be best for you. Good luck finding a happy set of stops.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  February 13, 2019 at 9:07 PM

                • Even if it would mean lots of time out in the ocean if I took a freighter, it’s good to know that there are options.
                  Thanks again for sharing this info with me 🙂

                  My Small Surrenders

                  February 14, 2019 at 5:17 PM

                • Sure thing. A future bon voyage, by whatever means.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  February 14, 2019 at 10:08 PM

  7. Hi Steve. Interesting little factoid about these beauties…they are apparently a threatened species (mind you, what isn’t where people are present?) and yet you see them all over the place here. I can only assume the same birds follow me round!

    I saw a TV show once that said that in a situation where there were more females than males of red-billed gulls, two females actually teamed up to raise a chick which one of them had had. Amazing!


    November 20, 2017 at 8:35 PM

    • I didn’t realize that this species is considered threatened. We saw plenty of these birds in Mangonui, and you say that you’ve seen them in various places over there. Perhaps their numbers have diminished in regions where the species used to be more plentiful.

      Interesting what that television show revealed: two female red-billed gulls teaming up to raise the chick that one of them had.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2017 at 9:25 PM

      • Really strange isn’t it? I guess sometimes you don’t notice a species depleting until it is far too late so fingers crossed for the humble gull.


        November 20, 2017 at 9:26 PM

        • Other species of gull inhabit New Zealand. Might it be the case that some of the gulls you’ve seen weren’t red-billed gulls but one or more of the other species?

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 20, 2017 at 9:32 PM

          • I don’t think so…but I am always happy to be proven wrong of course. They do have black-billed gulls which looks almost identical bar the different beak colour, and as you’ve shown, the juveniles do look a bit different. This website is really good for all things NZ bird, if you ever get chance to have a wander through its pages…http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/red-billed-gull


            November 20, 2017 at 9:36 PM

  8. Delightful!!

    Birder's Journey

    November 21, 2017 at 6:20 AM

  9. I don’t remember seeing a waterbird with patterned feet, but the juvenile in that first photo appears to have faint stripes on its feet and legs. I was surprised by the brown feathers, too; our gulls tend toward black, white, and gray.

    I think gulls are pretty. Some people call them obnoxious, messy, and demanding, and that’s all true, but I like them anyway. You’ve certainly captured their personalities well in your photos.

    Even the great blue herons will stand for hours on one leg. For three winters, one has hung out on a power boat across from me, where it can shelter from the north wind. It usually shows up about noon and stays until later afternoon: seemingly asleep, but still balanced on that foot.


    November 22, 2017 at 8:18 PM

    • Can we expect to see a photograph of that great blue heron standing on one leg?

      I looked through the photographs of red-billed gulls at


      and saw a predominance of grays and black, but enough occurrences of browns to assume that those shades are normal in this species.

      I was thankful for that first gull because it showed more personality than the others I photographed in Mangonui that afternoon.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 22, 2017 at 9:30 PM

  10. Nice shots Steve! I didn’t know that about standing on one leg… 🙂


    November 24, 2017 at 6:24 PM

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