Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Friday, 19 July 2013
Living with dinosaurs
It is now the time when city councils pledge all over again in local newspapers to do something about urban gulls, screaming things like "IT'S WAR!" on the front pages. Various idiotic schemes are experimented with, and the latest in this town is the application of a gel applied to roofs and parapets which is supposed to make the gull think that the building is on fire, and not to want to nest on it. Yeah right.
For the last few years, they have brought in a falconer who stands on one of about two roofs at a time, letting his huge and cumbersome Harris Hawk fly about upsetting the gull population, which just flies about making 10 times more noise than usual and then settles back onto the building when Harry the Hawk has gone home.
Over the last 23 years, I have become a bit of an expert on gulls, and I can honestly say that I understand almost every aspect of their body language when communicating with each other, having watched pair after pair perform each day outside our compact but adorable city apartment over that time.
This year, after about 3 weeks of noisy territorial stand-offs, one pair chose a nesting place in full view from our kitchen, and for the last couple of weeks have been sitting on a couple of eggs in the pile of rubbish they call 'a nest'.
The day before yesterday, the eggs hatched and the chicks doubled in size in a matter of 24 hours.
I got home last night to find H.I. standing at the window, saying that she was worried about the chicks, as they hadn't moved for several hours. She was quite right to be worried - the chicks had wandered about six feet from the nest into the fierce heat of the sun, and had both died on the spot.
By way of consolation, I said that gulls did not have the same reactions to the death of their children as us humans, but I had not witnessed an event like this at such close quarters before, so what did I know?
As the sun went down, the female parent (larger than the male) displayed all of the emotions that most humans do in this situation, apart from hysterically rending her garments in grief.
The first reaction is something like, "Shit. What do we do now?" Their bodies are hormonally set to take care of the fluffy things as they grow larger each day, but it begins to sink in that these particular chicks are not going to do that.
There then follows a period of obvious mourning when the female wanders slowly around the dead chicks, actually bowing her head in the same way that guards of honour do at state funerals. Then she lies quietly next to them and adopts a posture of sleep, though sleep seems to evade her. I looked out of the window after dark and before going to bed, and I could make her out - a white shape keeping vigil over the two corpses.
This morning at about 7.30, she was still there, trying to find solace in sleep. The male would come back every so often as he would have done anyway to relieve his wife (gulls pair for life and can live up to 40 years) while she went off for refreshments, and he would wander about the chicks just to make sure they were still dead.
Just as I began to write this, I looked out of the window to see her having a little taste of one of her chicks - she must be getting a bit hungry by now.
The short period of mourning must be over now, but I think it must have been long enough for the chicks to dessicate too much to be easily edible - they are so small and the weather is so hot.
Waste not, want not, eh? I think they will be back on the nest shortly with fresh eggs, but I don't know if they have learnt a lesson in parenthood by leaving their offspring unattended for so long in the first 24 hours of life on earth. A cat would have picked up the kittens and taken them back to the shelter, but then again, cats do not - traditionally - nest on cliffs.