Gull Parents

Western Gull (Larus occidentalis) parents and chicks

Watching these birds at work with their hatchlings replaces my image of gulls as voracious thieves with a rosier image of caring cooperative parents. My view of crows went through a similar twist; they mercilessly hounded kite chicks but they preen one another in a loving way. Here, out on the breakwater that sits just to the west of the park, two sets of Western Gull parents currently have freshly hatched chicks. In this camera angle, the nests seem to be inches apart, but the gap is more on the order of 12 feet. The nearer nest is the birthplace and crib of three hatchlings out of their shells on June 16 or so. Farther away, the second nest sits behind the electrical junction box out of sight. Three chicks hatched here a few days earlier than those in the nearer nest. Today, only one remains; it’s noticeably bigger than the three later arrivals. The fate of its siblings is unknown.

As the video opens, the parents on the nearer nest are doing a shift change. Gull males and females look identical but males tend to be a bit bigger and heavier. Based on that, I would guess that the male takes off and the female takes over. The chicks are still asleep. The sun only rose half an hour earlier. The parents will come and go several times during the next hour.

Next we see the mom of the other clutch, now reduced to a single chick, landing from a flight. She lands without problems, even though her right foot is missing. She hops toward her chick. A bit later, the dad arrives and feeds the chick; we can’t quite see it in detail but that’s what’s happening. This chick should be all right. It has both parents, they can both fly, and they’re feeding it. A bit later it ejects a quick poop, proof that it’s eating.

The three younger chicks in the near nest now start to wake up. They’re not afraid to leave the nest. One of them stands on the edge facing inward and ejects a tiny poop to the outside. They tumble over each other and then over the edge of the nest. They stay away, so far, from the edge of the concrete structure. After all three wake up and romp around for a while on their feet, Mom announces it’s breakfast time. She regurgitates a half-digested lump of fish, and they pounce on it. The biggest chick gets first bite. The second-biggest also grabs a good beak full. The third and smallest chick stays in the rear and misses out. Mom cleans up some fins that their baby stomachs can’t digest yet.

After some exploring, fluttering their tiny wing stubs, the trio head back to the nest for their morning nap. Further away, the bigger chick cozies up to its mom. She may only have one foot but she’s a perfect windbreak.

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