Anatomy of a photo #79: The Wrybill


The Wrybill is rather unique in the turn of its bill... neither up nor down, but to the side

I took this photograph during a fairly recent journey to New Zealand (the Wrybill is endemic to New Zealand, and so the best place to go to take a photograph of one is…) I didn’t however go to New Zealand just to take pictures of this one of a kind bird. That was just happy happenstance…happy-stance?…

Before I digress again. The Wrybill is unique in that it is the only known bird with a beak that curves to the side. It is an asymmetrically turned bill, and it always turns to the right. Many birds have beaks that curve up or down, but only one is to the side.

Sometimes the curve is less noticeable than others

The Wrybill is a delightful little plover to see, feeding on the edges of beaches, running up and down the water line. We saw this one near the Miranda Shorebird Center on the North Island, which is near the base of the Coramandel Peninsula. (And is a delightful place for seeing a wide variety of bird life, highly recommended if you enjoy birding or taking photographs of birds.)

I photographed this little feathered wonder fairly early in the day (8 am during late fall), using 300mm’s of lens. Aperture was open enough to give a fairly shallow depth of field to the pebbles on the beach, but stopped down enough that the entire bird would be in focus, at f/9. Shutter speed was a whopping 1/500th of a second as I was shooting hand held, and shorebirds (or waders) can be notorious for quick abrupt movements. ISO was set accordingly. Oh yes, and my knees got very wet taking this shot, as I was crouched down as low as I could be in the wet sand in my attempt to be at least close to eye level of the bird. I took several versions, to capture the bird as it moved around and had slightly different expressions.

P.S. Yes I do realize that I went backwards in my Anatomy of a photo numbering. I got confused, and am now filling in the holes…

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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12 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #79: The Wrybill

  1. animalartist says:

    The shot was worth all the effort and the wet knees. The bird reminds me very much of a killdeer, except the beak, of course. I too crawled around on gravel to capture them with my 300mm lens.

    • Definitely worth the wet knees, especially as I don’t know when I will see one next. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve ended up with wet or sore knees, and every time it was worth it.

      It is not surprising that they remind you of a Killdeer, as they are both species of plover and have very similar builds. The Wrybill is a bit smaller, and during its breeding plumage will only have a single necklace as compared to the Killdeers double necklace. The body shape though is very similar.

  2. Mattie Ivy says:

    I recognize that little guy!

  3. What we don’t do for art. Kneeling on gravel hurts too. Cute little guy, even if his beak is crooked. I wonder it they all bend the exact same way?

  4. John Granatir says:

    I’m wondering what the adaptation is for the curved-sideways beak?

    John G

    • I’ve been wondering why it turns to one side also (always the right from the Wrybill’s perspective). I’ve done internet searches, but people don’t seem to know. I can come up with some guesses that would song reasonable, but I haven’t seen this bird in action enough to really know much about it

  5. The contrast between birdie and the stones is wonderful. The colors are full and rich.
    Your photos are magnificent.
    I will be checking your blog all the time.

  6. ehpem says:

    I like the way the colour of the bird blends with the stones and almost becomes one of them

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