Tarāpuka / Black-billed gull

The Tarāpuka / black-billed gull is found only in New Zealand, and is one of the most threatened gull species in the world. 

They mainly breed in South Island braided riverbeds, although there are scattered colonies in the North Island. They prefer the coast in winter, so you will spot them along the coastline and estuaries.

You can identify the tarāpuka from the more common red-billed gull because it is more slender, and has a longer, black bill (hardly surprising, the red-billed gull has a red bill). Black-billed gulls are less likely to be found in towns and cities than other gulls, and are less commonly seen scavanging for food. However, in 2019 the tarāpuka became famous when around 300 were found nesting in an abandoned building in Christchurch.  

Breeding on a riverbed is a risky business. Many tarāpuka eggs and chicks don’t survive, as they are easy pickings for predators like hedgehogs, stoats, ferrets and feral cats. While they do have good camouflage, black-billed gulls are also targetted by kāhu/swamp harriers and karoro/Southern black-backed gulls. They have to cope with floods too, so they have adapted to renest if they lose chicks or eggs. 

Photos : Julia Gibson