Gulls at the Supermarket

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Gulls at the Supermarket

they’re loud, greedy, invasive, polluting and aggressive. They eat anything that moves and a lot of things that don’t. Hate them if you will, but seagulls are 100% badass.” 

Don Enright, from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Seagulls”

In nature, their hooked yellow bills tear apart small creatures like crabs and larger ones, like pigeons, or offspring of other gulls. They range in size from 2 to 2-1/2 feet - bill to tail - with a wingspan of up to 5 feet. If you toss them a crumb as you sit on the beach, you’re suddenly surrounded by a dozen of them. That makes me just a little uncomfortable. So why am I devoted to caring for these self-sufficient predators?

The other day I took a beach walk near Long Island Sound about half an hour south of where I live. I noticed a handful of seagulls either navigating the water or sitting on the sand, sunning themselves. And it reminded me of where I live 35 miles north, and how many more gulls are living in the parking lot of the nearby supermarket. Later that day back home, I sat in my car watching those gulls. I counted at least 20 of them sunning themselves on the asphalt.

I also observed two SUVs that stopped and tossed food on the grass for them. Like me. I also feed these gulls. I'm part of an informal cadre of creature lovers, especially in winter, to protect these birds from hunger. So, twice a week I toss a giant bag of Honey Nut Cheerios on to the grassy dividers at the supermarket. And the more aggressive gulls screech at, proclaim their dominance over, and jump ahead of the more timid; after all, it’s a survival-of-the-fittest world. Within minutes, all the Cheerios have been consumed.

After their snack, they return to their sunny spots alongside each other, resting on the warm asphalt; on either side of them cars pass within a foot or two of the group. They don’t budge. Those gulls have New York chutzpah. And they’ve got it made: giant dumpsters behind the Burger King, the pizzeria and the bagel store, nearby lakes and plentiful rain that make the Northern Westchester area a desirable winter resort! Oh, and suckers like me who are concerned; so compelled, driven, to augment their food supply. Rescuing animals. It’s one reason why I was put on this earth.

Still, I have mixed emotions.

This wild species amazes me; it’s a spiritual thing. I’m concerned about their vulnerability living so close to humans. We’ve commandeered their natural environment, and they have adapted for their survival to live within ours. We’ve turned these predators into scavengers. At the same time, I’m a bit fearful of these creatures, powerful and pushy, and in such great numbers, that, should they choose to, if provoked, could assault me a la Alfred Hitchcock, and I wouldn’t have a chance.

They are savvy. They know it’s feeding time as I pull my Subaru up to the curb. There they are, sunning themselves. After I park and move to the hatchback where I store the food supply, they begin to stir. I hear the calls, low but audible; some begin to strut; others saunter toward the car. They know a meal is about to be served. I toss the Cheerios in wide circles on the grass, so the weaker members on the fringes of the flock get a chance. During the smorgasbord, the whole flock suddenly rises like an ocean wave, wings flapping in a frenetic dance, calls loud, piercing, as they fly overhead. I feel like Tipi Hedrin in “The Birds.” I’m a bit scared. Then they land and resume feeding.

By that time, I’m watching them from the car. I see them take off again, most likely related to avoiding predators if they stay in one place for too long, leaving some of the food behind; they take wing, and like a disciplined white air force, swoop high and then return as a group to gobble up the remaining Cheerios. It’s a beautiful sight. Natural behavior in such an unnatural setting!

There's something frightening about the powerful energy coming at you from a seagull. This is why many people don’t like them. But there’s also something magnificent. Years ago, at the beach, I sat at a picnic table eating a hot dog without being cautious. As I talked, I held my right hand aloft, and all of a sudden, I lost that hot dog to a gull who swooped down, drone-like, and plucked that dog right out of the bun! Such precision! He landed in the sand next to us, held his head aloft, and swallowed that hot dog whole. That move was definitely 100% badass!

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