Tarapunga – Red Billed Gull

Red Beaked Gull

Red Beaked Gulls

Red billed gulls on Petone foreshore. Photos: MH

Tarapunga or Akiaki, (Chroicocephalus scopulinus), is a small gull which has been very common around the New Zealand shores, characterised by red bill, eye ring, legs and feet, with white feathers except for pale grey wings and black wing tips. Once classified as a ‘Larus’ like many other gulls, it is considered a species distinct from similar gulls around the Pacific and thus a New Zealand endemic native. It occurs from the Far North out to the Chathams and down to the Sub Antarctic Islands. Young birds have browner bills and legs and brown spots on their wings.

RB Gulls D Gammert

Tarapunga – second from the left is a young bird Photo: D Gammert

Red billed gulls range more widely out to sea than the larger black backed gulls, and do not go far inland, except for a colony at Lake Rotorua. Locally there is a very large breeding colony (around 6000 individuals) at Kaikoura, which provides the birds which tend to congregate around the Wellington shores in winter. They also disperse as far away as Auckland and Invercargill. The birds feed on krill, small fish, molluscs, crustaceans, insects, worms and scraps, competing with the larger gulls for bread scraps from picnics. Their numbers may now be falling off due to the progressive cleaning up of sewage outfalls, freezing works and landfills. They are considered an endangered species, although they are aggressive and known for ‘kleptoparasitism’ for harassing other birds to drop their food.

485px-Red_billed_gull-12 Tony Willis

Adult on left, young on right. Photo: Tony Willis

Te Arawa considers these gulls to be tapu, given that they apparently screamed a warning to them on Mokoia Island, Lake Rotorua, when a Ngapuhi tribe came marauding. Not that the warning saved the island people!

Sources: Wikipedia, Te Ara, Ben Bell in ‘Taputeranga Marine Reserve, edited by Gardner and J. Bell, VUW 2008