by Linda Shaffer
Winter may not bring much snow to the Oregon Coast but it sure does bring the seagulls. I don’t mean to imply that they go away any time of year but if you live along the coast, you’ll notice that the gulls are more apparent during winter months, downright neighborly. That is a nice way of saying that this is the time of year when they poop on windows, cars, decks, people and all other manner of things that don’t move fast. This also means that you are best off not to stand in one place for any length of time if you see gulls circling overhead.
Since my life is pretty dull, I decided to find out more about these sky rats. First off, I learned that not everyone lacks respect for this semi-noble bird. As a matter of fact, since a legislative vote in 1955 the California Gull has been the State Bird of Utah. Why? There is a legend in Utah that members of the Church of Latter Day Saints were saved by California Gulls in 1848 when Rocky Mountain Crickets viciously attacked farms, destroying crops and anything else that got in their way. In response, a squawking, screaming hoard of seagulls descended on the crickets and wolfed down as many as they could. Part of the legend is that the gulls ate so much that they threw up so they could eat more. I hate to throw a wet blanket on a great legend but the truth is that gulls regularly throw up food bits that they find indigestible.
On that subject, I have rarely seen a gull spit out anything. Since they are blessed with unhinging jaws they can consume vast quantities of really big food. They don’t discriminate against live birds or rotten garbage. All is fair game in their world. They are clever enough to pick up clams, fly them to a good rock, drop the clam to break the shell and then dine. They also have been known to use food to catch fish by floating small pieces of bait in shore water. Mr. S actually caught a gull one day in our garden. As luck would have it our grandsons were here that day and we had thrown a chicken carcass onto the roof. This gull ate so much that it couldn’t fly and after multiple tries, ended up floundering in the corn patch. Our hero was able to grab it so the boys could see a live gull up close and personal. Much to the dismay of those three, I was hanging clothes out back and missed the whole thing.
In fact, Mr. S has a “thing” with seagulls. Crabbing with a friend on Netarts Bay a few years back, a young gull landed on his head. While our friend struggled to get through all his gear and find his phone, the gull waited patiently and Mr. S held very still. The resulting photo is pretty funny and timeless enough that we use it to illustrate our return address labels. In the midst of radiation therapy for his cancer, Mr. S showed his oncologist the photo. Her face lit up and she got teary. Her opinion was that this was a blessing from the universe. Now this is a legend I can get behind because Mr. S is still here.
All my life I have believed that girl gulls were brown and boy gulls were combinations of white, gray and black. This is not true. Adult gulls are all the same color combination of their particular type. Brown gulls are immature adults and can take from two to four years to get their full plummage, which most of us have to admit is quite beautiful.
The coastline of every land mass in the world has sea gulls, even the shores of Antarctica. Though some do migrate before winter months, many don’t go far. For example the infamous gulls who live on the metal roof of the house behind us migrate about one-half mile from Netarts Bay, or at least that is my belief. They go away during summer, which is a blessing during outdoor events and while working in the yard but we depend on them during the winter to eat food scraps. They do so joyfully and swoop down on our driveway screeching and fighting until every morsel is gone. They do however, not like carrots but they still poop a lot.
All of this should explain why the Oregon State Bird is the Western Meadowlark. It also explains why there are signs in every coastal motel, guest rental, restaurant and park which say, “PLEASE DON’T FEED THE SEAGULLS”. We are living testimony as to why. Have a great week my friends.