The Birds

Nobody really likes seagulls. They’re no ones favourite bird, they’ve inspired no great works of art and they’re un-fondly known as a squawking nuisance. Unlike the noble and respected eagle, a seagull does not rely on deadly intimidation to secure its meals. Nor does it command respect with a fearsome call like falcon or hawk. It doesn’t invoke the mystery of a concealed owl. I can’t recall any legends about the seagull’s uncanny intelligence or masterful trickery, that prestige is saved for the raven. The gangly web-footed gull lacks the delicate grace of the hummingbird, the lovable curiosity of the crow and the stoic self confidence of the heron. They’re not even cute like penguins. They are, however, remarkable in their own annoying way.

The gull’s most endearing trait, in my opinion, is their love of sailing. When they’re tired of soaring through the skies they sail the high seas by harnessing the power and efficiency of tidal currents. It’s not uncommon to see three or four gulls standing at attention along a piece of drift wood as it floats without purpose. One log might be overtaken by another, manned by another crew of gulls sailing off into the sunset. Just hangin’ out, goin’ where the sea takes them. Perhaps the reason this behaviour is so charming is because it’s one of the rare occasions when they all shut the hell up.

The gull’s least likeable characteristic is of course its neurotic drive to alarm everyone within earshot of everything that crosses it’s little birdy mind. When a gull sees a fish, it squawks. When it senses the presence of a predatory bird it squawks. When another gull heres the first gull squawk, it joins in and squawks abut the squawking. Soon all the gulls in the vicinity, with more inevitably flying in from the horizon in all directions, are squawking about the squawking and there’s a whole delightful chorus of squawking. Simply remarkable.

The bay was quiet this morning. There are no guests at the resort and we have the day to ourselves to sleep in and relax. The storm clouds and gusting winds have taken a break and the sky is wide open— a brilliant blue vista. Our resident crow family waddled around the decks pecking at morsels of this and that and some other things. Blue, the heron, stood guard in his usual spot on the breakwater. A pair of plump brown ducks paddled lazily across the still water, occasionally bobbing head first into the water and wiggling their cute little butts in the air. A perfectly placid morning.

When I went inside everything was calm. Fifteen minutes later I emerged from my room into complete bedlam. Out of no where thousands of seagulls had appeared in the bay and they were all squawking their obnoxious alarm. The sky was clouded by frantically flapping wings and the bay was exploding with splashes as birds dive bombed it’s glassy surface. The noise was deafening. Peering down into the shallow water I saw what all the commotion was about. A school of smooth skinned, dark coloured fish, about a foot in length each were cruising along the edge of the bay as a cohesive militia. They were corralling a school of small scaly silver fish up against the rocks and picking them off one by one. Breakfast time in the bay. The bait fish that managed to escape the snapping jaws of the sablefish were taken from above by the squawking gulls.

Through the chaos we could see something a bit farther out in the bay, something big. It sent ripples across the surface as it moved stealthy towards the dock. It was submerged just enough to conceal itself as it gracefully took the bay by siege.  We ran down the ramp to get a better look just as its glistening back broke the surface and the puuuf-ssshhhht breath of a humpback whale unmasked the creature’s identity. As gracefully as it appeared it receded from view and returned to darker depths.

The gulls began to disperse, the sablefish broke rank and scattered. A shower of glittering scales rained to the bottom of the bay. A sparkling memoriam to the bait ball that was served up for this morning’s meal. 

I have to thank the gulls. Their ear-splitting ruckus brought me outside to watch the chaotic display of life and death that lasted only a few minutes. Thanks to gulls for alerting us of the leviathan visitor in our front yard. Thanks to the gulls for graciously taking the role of nobody’s favourite bird.


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