Birding and bird watching might seem like the same thing, but they are actually quite different and that distinction is based on commitment, dedication, passion and intensity.  Viewing birds makes you a bird watcher, while the act of traveling to seek out birds is known as birding.  A birder recognizes birds by their songs and calls.  Carol is a birder and she is mostly interested in gulls, which are members of a large, widespread family of seabirds.  These birds are often known as seagulls, although no species is actually called a seagull, and many are found far from the sea.  She finds these beautiful birds to be intelligent, and has noticed that they demonstrate complex methods of communication and they have a highly-developed social structure.  They are very adaptable relying on kleptoparasitism (deliberately taking resources from another) to get their food even though they sometimes get a bad reputation for stealing chips.  There are at least twenty-eight types of gull species seen in North America.  These numerous long-winged web-footed aquatic birds are fairly well distributed throughout the continent along the coastlines and at sea.

In general, gulls are robust, long winged birds that have bills that are stout and hooked and fully webbed feet except for the hind toes.  Unlike terns, which are found in similar habitats, gulls have broader wings and squared-off or rounded tails.  Many gull species exhibit different colorations due to seasonal changes or maturity level and it is often very difficult to identify a given gull’s species.  Bill and leg coloration are excellent distinguishing characteristics to use identifying gulls, but these birds can be some of the hardest birds to easily identify.  The plumage of the juveniles of different species takes from three to four years to achieve an adult plumage.  Some of the gull types have a non-breeding and a breeding plumage that change throughout the seasons.  To make this even more challenging, gulls cross-breed with other types of gulls, forming hybrids that reflect the looks and characteristics of each of the parent birds.

The gulls that Carol feeds are able to identify and remember her, and they seem to enjoy interacting with her.  The average lifespan for a seagull is 10-15 years in the wild, but there have been cases where they have lived up to 30 years old.  Gulls have an impressive sense of smell that allows them to detect the faintest trace of food from over 3 miles away and they have incredible vision, as they can see clearly from as far away as 2 miles.  A gull can eat up to 20% of its body weight in food each day mostly eating seafood like crabs, clams, mussels, shrimps and small fish, but they also scavenge for scraps of human food left behind by tourists or trash cans when humans aren’t looking.  A group of gulls is called a colony and these birds will mate for life with their partner.  All gulls fly in an erratic pattern to protect themselves from predators.  This behavior is called “jinking”, and the aim of it is to confuse any predator that may be pursuing them.​​​​​​ ​ These patterns are completely unpredictable and always changing, which makes it hard for the predator such as falcons or hawks to know what they’re going to do next.

Carol has been warmed many times not to feed the gulls, as some people feel that they are becoming a public health risk.  They say that feeding them increases their population and in turn that increases the risks of e-coli, salmonella and botulism.  They see these birds as nothing more than pests, like rats that can fly.  Some people complain that these birds are keeping them from being able to sleep and once people start feeding them, they will repeatedly call for food.  It is thought that feeding them will embolden them to become more aggressive and the more food they are fed, that will make them act like that scene from the Alfred Hitchcock horror film “The Birds”, as they divebomb at you while you are enjoying a snack on the beach.  Carol never listens to these people, because she finds it fun when the gulls take food right from her fingers.

Written for Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #181.

7 thoughts on “Birding

  1. Lots of good information about seagulls, Jim. And an interesting difference between bird watchers and birders. I wonder if Carol will ever heed the advice of those who think she’s contributing to the overpopulation of seagull.

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