Dateline – January 2022 – Lewisville, Texas

Birds in flight can be a challenging subject for the wildlife photographer. Recording pictures of avians on the wing is a formidable task for many reasons… Birds are often difficult to get close to. They are fast moving, and their flightpaths are often unpredictable. In most cases it takes more than just a little hard work and serendipity to get the kind of shots you are after.

But, some bird species are more cooperative than others. A good example is the Ring-billed Gull. In the winter, North Texas plays host to large flocks of these crow-sized birds. They can be found congregating in many different places around the metroplex. You can find them on and around area reservoirs. They also frequent the multitude of smaller lakes and ponds that are located all over the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Sometimes Ring-billed Gulls even gather in large empty parking lots. And they can always be found feeding at busy municipal landfills.

A typical North Texas congregation
Ring-billed Gulls in a neighborhood park
Somewhere around a thousand gulls were present at this location
Birds on the ground often tolerated a relatively close approach

So, what makes Ring-billed Gulls such good subjects for wildlife photography? Well to begin with, Ring-billed Gulls are plentiful, easy to find, and predictable in their behaviors. These specific characteristics can give the photographer a greater degree of control over things like session timing and lighting quality.

Ring-billed Gulls in the metroplex can be relatively tolerant of observation. In area parks where they congregate, these bird often become very accustomed to the presence of people, allowing for a reasonably close approach and a retention of candid behavior.

Further, Ring-billed Gulls are sleek and attractive birds. They present an intriguing degree of plumage and color variation between individuals of different ages. These gulls are also cooperatively slow in flight, while at the same time being highly aerobatic. They frequently strike aerial poses that virtually guarantee a compelling set of pictures. All of these factors taken together can definitely work in the favor of the resolute wildlife photographer.

Taking to the air!
The dark eyes and dark plumage of a juvenile gull
Pale eyes, lighter plumage, and yellow legs indicate an adult bird
Some shots can make it appears as if the photographer was in the air right next to the bird!
A first winter juvenile
An adult Ring-billed Gull
A pair of gulls do a flyby
The red orbital ring present in breeding season is beginning to show on many of the adult birds
A tricky maneuver
Side view
Top view
Bottom view

I’m often asked what these gulls are doing so far from the ocean. It’s a common misconception. These are not “sea gulls” per se, but instead they are birds of the interior. Consider the range map below (from Wikipedia). You can see from this illustration that Ring-billed Gulls spend much of their breeding season in the far reaches of North America. And during their annual migrations they can appear just about anywhere in the continental United States. In the winter, we have Ring-billed Gulls in North Texas, and they are present here for the entire season.

Ring-billed Gull Distribution Map from Wikipedia
ORANGE – Breeding, BLUE – Winter, YELLOW – Migration, PURPLE – Year-round
An interesting twist
A young bird vocalizing
Captured in pale lighting
The black bar extends to the tip of the bill on a first winter juvenile
A dramatic stall maneuver!
An aerobatic turn!
A nice look at the striking and dark plumage of a juvenile gull
Soaring over the moon
In frame with a much large Turkey Vulture in the sky above
Two for one

Another great thing about Ring-billed gulls is, that where they are present, it is often possible to get pictures of them on the ground, in the air, and on the water. A lucky photography session will produce images of many different behaviors, on a satisfying variety of backgrounds!

Approaching the water
Taking to the air!
A soggy leaf is a highly valued possesion
Face plant!
Grumpy looking gulls

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