Larus novaehollandiae scopulinus, Larus scopulinus
The red-billed gull (Chroicocephalus scopulinus), once also known as the mackerel gull, is a native of New Zealand, being found throughout the country and on outlying islands including the Chatham Islands and subantarctic islands. The Māori name of this species is tarapunga or akiaki. Its vernacular name is sometimes also used for the dolphin gull, a somewhat similar-looking but unrelated species. As is the case with many gulls, the red-billed gull has traditionally been placed in the genus Larus.
The red-billed gull is a fairly small gull with an all-red bill, red eye ring, red legs and feet, pale grey wings with black wingtips. The rest of the body and tail are white. There is virtually no visual difference between the male and female birds. Juvenile gulls have a dark brown bill with only hints of red, making them difficult to distinguish from the black-billed gull. The legs are also brown and there are brown spots on the grey wings.
It is the smallest gull commonly seen in New Zealand; a recent estimate of the population puts it at half a million birds in the country. Until recently it was regarded as a subspecies of the silver gull Larus novaehollandiae found in Australia, and the two species are very similar in appearance. However the most recent research suggests that they are not particularly closely related.
Behaviourally, the red-billed gull is a typical gull. It is an aggressive scavenger and kleptoparasite. Since European settlement its numbers have increased, especially around coastal towns and cities where it can scavenge from urban waste. It normally feeds on small fish, shell fish and worms (from pastures), and sometimes berries, lizards and insects.
They nest from October to December in colonies on the coast, either on islands or rocky headlands, cliffs and beaches. The birds form pair bonds which endure across seasons, but there is a certain amount of extra-pair copulation. Courtship feeding is an important part of the preparation for mating. Nests are well formed and may be constructed of seaweed, grasses, leaves and ice plants. Generally two to three eggs are laid, their colour ranges from brown to grey with light and dark brown spots all over. The bird generally lives up to 14 years, although ones have also been found living up 27 years.
- BirdLife International (2004). Larus scopulinus. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
- Barrie Heather and Hugh Roberston (2005). The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand (revised edition). Viking.
- Shirihai, H. (2002). A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife. Alula Press, Oy, Finland.
- Mills, J. A. (1994). Extra-pair copulations in the Red-Billed Gull: Females with high-quality, attentive males resist. Behaviour, 128, 41-64.
- Pons J.M., Hassanin, A., and Crochet P.A.(2005). Phylogenetic relationships within the Laridae (Charadriiformes: Aves) inferred from mitochondrial markers. Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 37(3):686-699
- Tasker, C. R., & Mills, J. A. (1981). A functional analysis of courtship feeding in the Red-billed Gull, Larus Novaehollandiae scopulinus. Behaviour, 77, 222ff
- Media related to Larus scopulinus at Wikimedia Commons