July 10, 2007
We were on the Pismo Beach fishing pier at midday. We were amused by an adult seagull (Larus californicus*) with a shiny silvery fish (about 8 inches long) still wiggling a bit in his beak. He threw the fish down and thwacked it almost desultorily with his beak, until he finally punctured it and began to pull out some innards. He kept looking up and around to make sure nobody wanted to steal his fish. We wondered why the bird was taking so long to eat his snack.
Then two younger gulls (brown and smudgy instead of the crisp black, white, and grey of the mature birds) began to walk toward the older gull, clearly eager to see what he had and to get some of it. The older gull left the fish where it lay and went to fend off one of the younger gulls. In the mean time, the other youngster circled around them and came up to the fish. The youngster snapped up that fish and swallowed it so quickly that neither of us really saw it happen, even though we were watching very closely.
Was the older bird not hungry? Was he playing with his food? Couldn’t he swallow whole for some reason? Was the second bird gobbling fast to prevent any interference? Or was he especially hungry? There’s no way to know, but it was wonderful to see.
The photo shows two adults in a tranquil moment and their two fuzzy offspring.
*We saw mainly California gulls around Pismo Beach. Gulls are notoriously hard to identify precisely, both because they go through multiple plumages as they mature and because some species interbreed successfully.