In defence of the humble seagull

The local press is full of shock horror stories about the modern devils of the high street: the seagull.Apparently some one in Berwick has taken to shooting them, and our local MP is warning against such vigilante action.  I have to agree with those who write about the disgusting mess the seagulls leave in our towns and cities. A brief walk around sunny Berwick a week or so ago, left that in no doubt. Would you want to sit here?Other councils are talking of handing out hefty fines (£80!!) for those who feed these high street pests.  There is no doubt that the seagull does have a sharp eye for rubbish!A recent walk around Berwick revealed another world high up above all the human busyness … a world of watchers and waiters … waiting to swoop presumably for that tasty morsel …However, we are lucky because we see another side of the gull story. And just at the moment I’m missing them.

One of the pleasures of the slower wintry days has been field-watching. These fields, looking south towards Scremerston and over the coast towards Holy Island, are very familiar to us now. Here, after heavy rain last November, you can see the old parish boundary marking the borders of the Municipal Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It reappears in the form of the curved waterway running over the field between the two larger ponds.The ponds lingered – and came and went.  As did the gulls. Sometimes there’s just a solitary gull …More often there’s a host of gulls arriving …and working the field …There are visitors too on the far pond …They come and go …Now the fields have dried up and the winter crops are growing so these visitors have gone …Not entirely. A solitary gull has been known to come and eat at our table …Leaving in haste, when sighted! They are funny birds to watch close up because their descent and take-off can be so very clumsy.We don’t have to go far to see the gulls on the beach. Just how glorious can they be when sighted in feeding frenzy as on this cold winter’s day several years ago.An everyday walk down to the Tweed shows them speckled over the river …Sometimes you see a little more besides …They have a talent for striking the stylish pose – always good at finding a fine vantage point.And they can be hilariously funny too.  One summer we watched this young greedy gull pester its parent for food …The parent gave way, fed the baby bird (aren’t they the ugliest babies you have ever seen?!!) …And then tried to leg it as the youngster begged for more …We’ve also seen harsh reminders on the beach that life for the gull can be all too nasty, brutish and short …Part of our beach treasure collection at home is this seagull “crown” …We think it belonged to a seagull chick or fledgling that was unfortunate enough to meet a raptor very early in its life. The underside is soft downy feathers and fragile bone.The cats love playing with it … just check out this natural born killer … those claws!Perhaps the best time to enjoy gulls is when they plough the fields – more often in the autumn round us than the spring.Aaaah – the light on those wings as they scramble to follow the plough!If you’re of a certain age (as I most definitely am), you’ll recall Richard Bach’s book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. In very very brief, it’s the story of one particular gull’s striving for perfection in flight.It’s about soaring, swooping gloriously above …Catching those perfect thermals …About exhilaration …About freedom …I love Jonathan Tulloch’s description of seagulls as “raggedy angels”. Writing of his stay in a Birmingham hotel in a recent edition of the Tablet, he says: “[…] all I could hear were seagulls. I opened the window and their kookaburra-like laughter filled the room. There they were, soaring over the skyline on slightly tattered wings like raggedy angels.” How very much more vivid is this evening view of Tweedmouth for the gull soaring in the sky above?  It hints at that raggedy angel’s view – worlds and aspirations and hopes of which we mere mortals can only dream. (Apologies both because I am being slapdash in using the common term Seagull for what I know are several different breeds of birds.  And secondly, because my iPhone5S is woefully inadequate to the challenge of photographing these fantastic birds.)


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17 thoughts on “In defence of the humble seagull”

  1. Jonathan Seagull is a brilliant book, I lent my copy out years ago and can’t remember who to. Curses. I love watching them in flight. We are 17 miles inland and if we can hear them here we know there is a sea mist in Scarborough. The problem is people eating fish and chips outside. If people ate inside at a table the problem of seagulls would be solved.


    1. Glad to have found another Jonathan Livingston Seagull enthusiast! That book just encapsulates for me the swooping beauty of these birds – who can be pretty tiresome in the wrong place unfortunately.


  2. Hear hear Katherine! Isn’t it just like us humans to demonise a creature that gets in our way? I have the greatest respect for these birds. We have them living on chimney pots down the road and I consider them as pets! Every day they get two nicely defrosted fish sticks. Always amusing to see who gets them first, as the pet crow is in competition for this tasty morsel. ‘Our’ seagull is called Pingins and is easily recognisable due to its undershot bill. We whistle and clap our hands and it takes off instantly and comes down onto the garage roof – getting very tame now, though these are understandably wary birds. My cockatiel recognises their sound and I talk to him about it.

    As for bird mess on benches, has anybody noticed the geological stratum of chewing gum on our streets? Steve went to the Phoenix Art Centre last week and stood in the auditorium to watch a band – his feet stuck to the floor!

    Coming from the West Midlands where we have no seaside, the sound of seagulls for me is always associated with the excitement of a family holiday. I love these birds.


    1. I’m quite envious that you’ve got that seagull coming so regularly to your table, Mandy – ours has disappeared. I completely agree that chewing gum is absolutely foul (that story about Steve with his feet stuck to the ground is shocking) – it’s also a lot harder to remove than seagull mess! And oh yes, the sound of the seagulls makes me excited too – even though we have them on our doorstep 🙂


  3. I really like seagulls. They always remind me of lazy Summer days as a teenager at my nan’s house, when I used to wake up with them yelling (what do you call the sound they make?) and walking on the roof of the bedroom.

    That same nan has a pet seagull. It was just a wee thing when someone shoved her through her gates, couldn’t even fly! My nan fed it and let nature take its course – now this bird is massive and loves nothing more than to rap at her bedroom window and ask for food and a chat. It comes and goes as it pleases, but really enjoys her company. This relationship is now 12 years old!


  4. Oh I loved reading this. We don’t see them often at all – not surprising given where we are, but these days of course that’s no guarantee) when we do see them or hear their distinctive cry it immediately transports me straight to the seaside, which I rather love. Having said that, they can be quite bossy can’t they. I always think of them in Finding Nemo (and likewise apologies if they aren’t actually gulls) – but they are amusing and I certainly wouldn’t wish them any harm.


    1. Thank you, Anny. It’s amazing how much the call of the seagull is associated for so many with childhood trips to the seaside. And you’re quite right – they are such amusing birds!


  5. I have a thing for seagulls 🙂 They are such an intrinsic part of sea image… My favorite moment is when I come to the beach with my dog, he sees a colony of seagulls, runs towards them and they all lift up in the air, surrounding me and creating a bird cupola above me… It’s an indescribable feeling… Breathtaking!


  6. Perhaps a time and place for everything 🙂 I love watching gulls behind the plough but feel very protective of my fish and chips when I sit on the seafront with the gulls watching me. What a beautifuly clear blue sky. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to fly up and away into it?


  7. J & D > We live by the shore and with a view across islands and seas full of fish. The air is full of the song of birds of every kind – but rarely that of the gulls. Why? Gulls are spread out, serching individually for food, which is plentiful but widely dispersed. Gulls congregate in numbers, and dispute noisily with eachother, when opportunities are concentrated and sporadic : and that’s in towns. The problem is not the gulls, but our messy towns.


    1. Very interesting to read about your experiences of seagulls in such a remote and little-populated place. I’m inclined to agree that it is our fault they are so horrible in towns. Now I’m on the “seagull-watch”, I notice things like signs saying: Please don’t feed the seagulls. Which I guess too many silly tourists ignore. The seagulls here at Seaview are such a joy!

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