July, heat, open doors and windows for a cool breeze. The gulls nested on a neighbour’s roof had been persistently noisy for days, with a penetrating, pugnacious squawk audible throughout our house.
In the 20+ years we’ve lived here, gulls have moved inland from their seaside haunts to nests across the town. We are not to call them sea gulls, just gulls now and they are a protected species.
Protection, though, doesn’t mean gulls are gentle, vulnerable birds. The opposite is true, with their reputation of noise, nuisance, attack. One woman’s head was bloodied in one attack.
These noisy, defensive swoops over our gardens were because this year’s chicks were growing up, now nearly as big as their parents but still squeezing out their pathetic, asthmatic, please-be-sorry-for-me cries. Agressive parents yelled their response through daylight hours.
Then early evening and the pathetic cry of a young gull in our small garden. There it was, a big bird unlike our robins, finches, tits or even woodpeckers. Its plumage was still a mottled grey-brown, unlike the deceitful white of grown gulls. This youngster could not fly. Or had forgotten. It must have glided from its roof-top roost to our small, dry, grassy area bounded by various shrubs and under an aged apple tree. Then got stuck.
Maybe it was too weak to try to fly. Maybe the chick saw it didn’t have the length or angle needed to make it skyward, so it walked around the garden, crying its pathetic cry, quite heart-rending.
The computerised answer machine of an animal welfare group was no help. One short-lived idea tempted me to catch the chick in a large cloth, carry it out to the street so that, if the parent gulls could help, surely they would. They kept circling, they didn’t try to help. Nature, I thought, should be left to take its course.
Then the chick discovered the side entrance. Well, if it wants to go out into the road, let’s help it. Side gate opened, off it toddled towards the road. Now it had space to take off, if it could. Or its parents could feed it and protect it.
A while later an ambulance drove past and went over the chick, I was told. A crew member picked it up and placed it on the ground at the base of a tree.
By morning, the chick or corpse had gone. Perhaps a fox, maybe a cat. Nature had taken its course. Such a short walk; such a short life.
Other gulls now circle with parents, flying lessons, hunting tips – who knows. They squawk less, seem less bothered by humans, until next year with new eggs and new chicks.