Photographing the Ring-Billed Gull


The other day I found myself out in search of birds to photograph. The weather was cold and the clouds were low but I decided I would head out anyway. Winter can provide many great opportunities to photograph birds, such as the ring-billed gull, if one is willing to brave the elements.

ring-billed gull
A ring-billed gull in flight.

I tend to be more pessimistic about low light than I do about low temperatures. In fact, low temperatures do give some great photography opportunities to photograph winter birds as I enjoyed on this day with the ring-billed gulls.

ring-billed gull
A ring-billed gull hovering over a frozen marsh in search of food.

I drove around the auto tour route of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in search of any of our avian friends willing to pose for the camera. I wasn’t finding much as many of its summer tenants have headed south for the winter. I came across a small patch of open water in the almost desolate and frozen wetland and where there is water there is almost always gulls. Bingo, I found my subject, the ring-billed gull.

ring-billed gull
Close-up of a ring-billed gull in flight.

I confess the ring-billed gull hasn’t been my target subject when going out to photograph birds very often. I am not sure why that is. The ring-billed gull is a fascinating bird and as I found out after watching them they are also pretty intelligent and have superb eyesight.

ring-billed gull
Winter is a great time to photograph gulls.

The morning had a stiff north wind and the gulls would use that to their advantage, hovering in the wind over small pockets of open water in search of prey. In this case I witnessed them diving and coming up with both shad, a small bait fish, as well as crayfish. They gulls would keep circling around the open pockets of water in hopes of finding a small morsel of food to dive for in the icy waters.

ring-billed gull
Practice photographing flying birds on gulls.

Observing this behavior not only gave me an ideal opportunity to photograph the ring-billed gull up close and personal but it gave me another insight to the behavior of this sea-type bird. My only regret was the low clouds and lack of ample light to give me the quality of images I was hoping for from this unique opportunity with the ring-billed gull. The images came about a bit softer than I would have liked due to the lack of good sunlight but I learned something about the ring-billed gull and its feeding behavior I didn’t know before so I am happy with the opportunity to watch these birds brave the icy waters in search for a tasty meal.

ring-billed gull
Ring-billed gull in flight.

The irony here is the ring-billed gull is an extremely common bird in these parts but not one easily photographed because they sail over vast amounts of open water in search of food. Today, however, I was lucky to find the right spot with a small pocket of water which congregated the gulls close to the road so photographing them was fairly easy. Hopefully I can find a similar situation again this winter to retry photographing the ring-billed gull in such close quarters.

ring-billed gull
Ring-billed gull.

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