Tuesday, 28 February 2017

TJ RIP


Over the last 26 years during the Spring and Summer, I have learned the basics of Black-Backed Gull-speak. I am not saying that I could hold a conversation with them, but I could certainly order food and drink in one of their restaurants, and aggression in body language is pretty much universal across the species, with a few easy-to-learn variations thrown in.

There are two distinct warning cries in gull-speak. One is simply 'LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT!' repeated over and over again, and the other boils down to 'OH NO YOU DON'T! NOT IN OUR TERRITORY!' The use of the word 'OUR' as opposed to 'MY' is quite deliberate, because even in the height of the breeding-season's relentless struggle to gain and retain patches of cliff or rooftop, there are always occasions when the welfare of the group as a whole take precedence.

The 'LOOK OUT' group-warning usually means that a distant buzzard has been spotted 1000 feet up, harmlessly circling on a thermal, or an even more harmless - but huge - Heron is making its stately way over the city, more often than not being mobbed by Crows. When intruders which can be roughly categorised as predators pass over, even the corvids get involved in the community.

I heard the indignat gull-cry from the kitchen this morning, and I looked out expecting to see one of our resident Peregrine Falcons having a go at a pigeon, but whatever was happening was happening over the roof and out of sight. When the Falcons take action, it is all over very quickly and the gulls' warnings cease almost as soon as they have begun.

Sure enough, all the local gulls settled down very quickly and went back to the urgent business of re-establishing last year's territory. Then a few pigeon feathers slowly floated down past the window...

I was taught the rudiments of gull-speak by the largest and most dominant gull in the area, about 20 years ago. This one had already been in close contact with humans, because it had a tag on one ankle with the letters 'TJ' written in red. So, of course, it became known as TJ. TJ also made me familiar with the body-language used by gulls, and the almost cute pleading noises that they use between each other as husband and wife when it asked for food. We fed it all our kitchen scraps, and in return it kept all the pesky others away from our territory.

All I had to do to let TJ know that we had something for it was raise my arm very slightly at the window, and he would swoop down from the wall over the lane where he had spent the previous couple of hours waiting and watching. He did not need to go scavenging with the rest for last-night's kekbab detritus. It felt good to dispose of the kitchen waste in this way, rather than shamefully binning it as we do now. We were feeding his wife and child at the same time, which felt even better.

After a couple of years, TJ began to take liberties, so I had to let him know that he was in our territory on sufferance and not by dint of his superiority. One day, I was in the living room when I was startled by someone violently hammering on the glass of our kitchen window, and the immediate image conjured-up was of a window-cleaner who was in dire need of assistance, so I rushed into the kitchen to find TJ standing on the cill and staring accusatively at me. Even in repose, gulls' expressions can be quite menacing.

I decided not to feed him for the time being and scared him away if he approached the window cill. Because these huge gulls have no predators and marry for life, they can live for around 38 years with enough food, so I fully expected to see him and his missus again, but he eventually disappeared.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine who lives nearby said that he was gratified to see a large gull swallowing a rat whole in his backyard, and he knew that this rat had met its end by the poison which he had laid a day or two before. The gulls kept him awake for half the night, you see.

I think that gull may have been TJ.

20 comments:

  1. Shame we weren't in correspondence at the time you first spotted TJ, through his ring lettering I could of found out where he was rung and when.

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    1. He was rung by a Bristol gull expert for a population survey some time ago. There were 800 breeding pairs at the time.

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    2. Well done Tom, nice when the information isn't wasted.

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    3. Not wasted, but also unused. The demolition of the Southgate shopping centre here a few years ago moved half of the population further into the centre and concentrated it to a much smaller area. The abolition of open rubbish-tips brought the gulls in too. The introduction of Red Kites in Oxfordshire brings them closer to here year by year, but if you see them in numbers over places near Swindon and Reading, they are seen over people's bird tables. The others survive on road-kills. We, as usual, are the prime factors in decline and rise.

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    4. The last time I went past Didcot in a train, I could not count the Red Kites in one small area in time as I passed, but I estimate that one group to have been in excess of 25 - in the air.

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  2. Replies
    1. Sometimes I even feel sorry for the rats.

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  3. Replies
    1. He was.a gull but I feel I got to know him. His wife turned up for a while.

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  4. I'm in 2 minds about Gulls. I like them as exotic birds, but not when they use our Brighton home's flat-roof as an all-night dance hall.

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    1. There is a decline of them on the South coast, but not in town.

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  5. Ahwwww ..... poor old TJ ..... see, you should never give them names .... it always makes it harder when they go. XXXX

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    1. Hang on it was only a gull. I didn't go into mourning!

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  6. This is the chief reason i don't put out poison for vermin. We don't usually get gulls unless a storm is coming, but we have any number of eagles, hawks, and falcons in addition to felines who may feel the effects of the poison.

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    1. Exactly. If you really want to kill something, then just be brave and use your hands. That way the damage is limited. We have lost so many thrushes to poisoned snails.

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  7. When I was connected to seagoing activities. Seagulls were looked upon as being reincarnated Chief Petty Officers and were therefore fair game for tormenting, but you being a land lubber are probably not aware of such activities ?

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    1. I stayed in a harbour side B and B in Scotland once and the landlady cooked 3 breakfasts, one go the gull who she believed was her dead husband. There cannot have been that many Chief Petty Officers!

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  8. Thousands upon thousands actually

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    1. Please furnish me with the ratio of Petty Officers to ordinary Seamen in the R.N. and I will compare the figures with the known gull populations from whenever you gave up rum, bum and concertina myself. There are too many alternative facts and fakes news stories out there for me to trust a Druid to tell the truth.

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