Maori name: Tarapunga
Length: 37-38 cm
Distribution: New Zealand coasts, rarely inland. Australia.
Food: Wide variety of marine creatures, eggs, worms, insects, berries.
Voice: A harsh ‚karr-karr‘.
Breeding: September to January, in colonies. Bulky nest of grasses and seaweed. Two brownish eggs blotched dark brown. Incubated for 25 days. Chicks fledge about four weeks. Two years old when first nesting.
Few birds are as well known as the Red-billed Gull, simply called Seagull by most people. Primarily a bird of the coast it may be seen inland in some areas such as at Rotorua, and towns near the coast often have some on playing fields or in parks and gardens seeking scraps from visitors. Red-billed Gulls feed on crustaceans, molluscs, fish and a variety of marine invertebrates. On mud-flats some have been seen paddling vigorously to bring creatures such as worms to the surface. They scavenge at tips, sometimes take eggs from nests and occasionally steal from other birds. Inland, earthworms are eaten and sometimes a few berries.
Known as the Silver Gull in Australia, Red-billed Gulls are found around all Australian coasts and well inland on lakes and waterways. Some have reached subantarctic islands, Norfolk Island, the Chathams and they are also known from South Africa where it is usually given separate status and called Hartlaub’s Gull. Stragglers have been seen in New Guinea.
Birds breed first at two years of age. Most colonies are on the eastern coasts of the North and South Islands, courtship is under way in August and the first eggs laid in September. There is constant activity at a colony with much posturing, display and noise. Nest material is stolen, eggs taken from other pairs or from White-fronted Terns which sometimes nest nearby. A variety of grasses and seaweeds are used to construct the bulky nest and pairs that are returning to the colony sometimes breed on exactly the same site as in previous years. The two eggs are brownish with dark blotches and spots but colour is rather variable. Both adults share incubation and chicks hatch after 24 to 27 days. Youngsters remain nearby and one adult is usually on guard. Chicks that wander are likely to be killed. As they approach fledging, which occurs in three to four weeks, groups of young may gather together with just a few adults on guard. Adults feed their young even after fledging and are constantly pestered by whining juveniles seeking regurgitated food. Only one brood is raised a year but interestingly some colonies in Western Australia nest twice in one season. Red-billed Gulls have been known to pair up with Black-billed Gulls at the Rotorua colony.