Monday, 5 June 2017

Tale of a Teenage Herring Gull

Well, we had an interesting herring gull episode today.

As you know (if you read here often) our next door neighbours’ house hosts a seagull family on the flat extended section of its roof. Our houses are tall Victorian buildings, so that’s three floors’ worth of big airy rooms from the ground.

It turns out that seagulls are trainable, and wait politely on the shed roof or the woodstore roof to be fed. But in the last few weeks, as their babies have grown and got hungrier, breakfast time has become a matter of urgency (aye, and supper time) so the parent seagulls come and rap on the back door to let us know they’re starving out there.

Our Rosie lives in the back room downstairs, and has planted a vegetable garden (presently full of thriving potato plants) just outside her door into the yard. And this afternoon I glanced out of the kitchen window to see a young herring gull sitting on her doorstep tapping on the window. Evidently the youngster had made it down from the roof but couldn’t get back up, and knew this is where seagulls come for help. So we took it out a dish of fishy catfood, which was gratefully received, and watched to see what would happen.

Adult herring gulls have sardonic, aloof yellow eyes; but the youngsters have big black eyes a bit like the eyes of seals – very beautiful, very appealing.

The parent gull came down to see what could be done, and had no success in getting Junior up off the ground. So then Mama (or Papa?) came and banged on the window for help.

We went out to see what we could do, and Mama explained the situation to us and hung around anxiously, but their roof was a long way beyond what we could reach, and Junior had no plans for flying up there.

Our Fi went off to ask the vet what to do, while I googled seagull rescue advice (East Sussex knows about herring gulls, believe me).

The vet had no one on duty, but the rescue site advised getting the young bird up onto a low roof from which the parents could encourage it home – pointing out that seagulls are excellent parents (no word of a lie – they are).

Meanwhile Mama was doing her best in the garden. In the Bayeux Tapestry there’s a wonderful scene of “King Harold comforting his troops”, which redefines our understanding of comforting and therefore sheds fresh light on the role of the Holy Spirit. Harold is comforting them with the point of a spear.

Similarly was Mama Seagull comforting her errant offspring – pecking it vigorously to make it fly. Big mistake; just made it scream. But she hovered around anxiously, trying to get it up off the ground. Managed to get it onto the fallen log we sit on, managed to get it onto the garden wall – no further.

Around five, Foxy came to get her supper, and happily didn’t take the young gull for a supplementary snack, but we could see this was the next problem on the horizon.

Get the bird onto a low roof, the rescue site said – or ideally back onto the roof it calls home; but get the right roof or it’ll find a hostile reception from the resident birds.

And eventually we realized there was nothing else for it; we’d have to catch it and put it up on our roof, as no gulls nest there but the parents are only yards away next door. Even if it failed to make the crossing home, Mama and Papa would bring breakfast lunch and tea until it was properly ready to fly. Come to that, we could put out food and water, too.

So we took more catfood (its third bowlful!) and added it to its plate on the garden wall where it stood, Mama circling anxiously overhead. Completely unafraid of us right there alongside, the little bird scoffed off its grub with true herring gull voracity – and I took advantage of this preoccupation to grab it.

The young gull screamed blue bloody murder, and tried with its little webbed feet to make me let go. I took it into the house still yelling at the top of its voice, while a posse of seagulls swirled and swooped overhead – but they know us and didn’t bomb us; I was so impressed by their trust in us today.

As I carried the youngster upstairs, it registered its displeasure by threatening to bite my finger; but it didn’t do it hard, just let me know this was a possibility I might like to think about.

We climbed the stairs all the way up to the Badger’s attic and opened up the skylights. In a last demonstration of panic, the seagull was (annoyingly) sick on the carpet; then we had the window open and released Junior onto our roof. Before long Mama was in attendance with Junior up and walking along the ridge tiles.

Since then it’s been raining and misty, and we haven’t been able to see what the outcome has been. But I think they’ll figure it out from there. We’ll keep an eye out and continue to feed it if necessary. Safe from Foxy’s attentions at the very least.

Meanwhile we have left out in the garden the various plates the seagull snacked from, knowing that before morning Foxy will have licked them all clean as a whistle. Hey, how cool is that, to have wild animals show up to wash the dishes! Just call me Snow White.


Nearly Martha said...

Wow, they must really trust you all. If I take the Jack Russell out for a walk through the streets where they are nesting on roofs, we will get seriously dive bombed.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes! I was a bit nervous - a whole lot of seagulls circling overhead, including Mama, when I picked up baby and carried it off yelling into our house!

Suze said...

What an adventure. Shall we knick name you Feacis?

Anonymous said...

Glorious! We have close dealing with herrings gulls too. The stage that amuses me every year is when the "baby" is declared old enough to fend for itself, but doesn't agree and mews pitifully at the parents to try to get them to carry on feeding it.
I have bought secondhand, but not yet read 'The herring gull's world' by Niko Tinbergen.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yeah - Francis would be a good nickname, Suze; "Feacis" hasn't quite the same ring . . .

Hi Helen - I don't know that book - will look it up.



gretchen said...

oh, my, the lengths we go to in order to care for our animal friends, both wild and tame. it does my heart good to know that acts of kindness abound! God Bless :)

Jenna Caruthers said...

Radah is the Hebrew word behind "dominion" in Genesis 1:28. It carries the meaning of a transfer of authority to rule by an established order, as a vice-regent. (King Jimmy's folks decided upon dominion for brevity but thereby didn't capture the transfer part of it.) So you have "ruled" by the established compassionate order of the Most High. :) Or, as George Fox put it: That of God in every one. Well done. :)

Jen Liminal Luminous said...

it's so lovely you go to such an effort to look after your neighbours!

Pen Wilcock said...



Julie B. said...

It was pure delight reading this. xo

Pen Wilcock said...