April 14, 2010
If a stray cat wanders into your backyard and you feed her, what happens? She starts coming back for breakfast, lunch and dinner because she has found a food source and you are generous enough to keep the buffet open.
So, what happens if you feed the sea gulls on the beach? Uh, they keep coming back.
I’ve learned that there are two types of people on the beaches and sandbars of the Lowcountry.
Feeders (noun): people who feed sea gulls, willingly wave cheese puffs in the air, and are almost always sitting directly adjacent to Courtney Hampson on the beach.
Feeder-haters (noun): people who bring food to the beach so they can eat it; they don’t feed the sea gulls.
Now that summer has recently sprung, and I am taking full advantage of our beloved beach and boat days, I get the distinct honor of having weekly run-ins with the feeders.
You know the type. The feeders think it is funny to have dozens of birds swarming over head. The feeders laugh along with the gulls cackling call. Feeders don’t mind that this dirty bird will strut confidently within inches of their beach blanket for a small taste of their mid-afternoon meal.
It is no coincidence that the migratory path of feeders mimics that of the sea gull. Meaning it doesn’t matter what shore – ocean or river, Jersey or South Carolina - the sea gull will swarm if feeders are present.
It is my distinct hope that the feeder species are tourists from interior states, flocking to the shoreline for vacation, and awestruck by the sea gull, so much so, that they must get a closer look and feed them. In such cases, this may warrant a one-time excusable offense.
But for locals, to be a feeder is inexcusable.
Sea gull is actually a nickname for the Herring Gull. In North America, the sea gull breeds along the Atlantic coast and inhabit shorelines of oceans, seas, lakes, and large rivers. So, bottom line. They are here to stay.
And I am willing to peacefully co-exist with the species (the gull, not the feeder).
In fact, The Migratory Bird Act of 1918 tells me that I have to. Believe it or not, in the early 1900’s sea gull feathers were a hot commodity and were being pillaged. The Migratory Bird Act makes it illegal to harm or injure a gull without a Federal permit. This Act combined with the resources provided by human activity (food!), allowed the species to make a remarkable rebound. The success of the Act was, in fact, so great that now sea gulls have become a bit of a nuisance in many areas where large numbers of sea gulls coincide with human activity and land use. Yup, that means our beaches and sandbars.
Gulls are very opportunistic and adaptive feeders and will forage on anything -- from your lunch, to someone else’s leftovers found in the garbage can, to fish, to chicks of other bird species or their own.
Listen, it isn’t up to me to tell you who to invite over for lunch and dinner. But, it is important to note that the sea gull isn’t the cleanest bird in the ol’ food chain. They tend to carry avian tuberculosis and internal parasites, salmonella and botulism are often the cause of their demise and, they like to play host to fleas and ticks. Now, I’m no scientist, but why exactly do folks insist on sharing a meal with them?
As a founding member of the Feeder-Haters Association, I feel it is my duty to also point out that as with all living creatures ... when you eat, you poop. Unfortunately, the sea gull’s defecation reaction is almost instantaneous. Sea gulls don’t follow the “don’t $hit where you eat” mantra. The bottom line is, if they are eating off of your beach towel, they will probably be pooping there too.
Enjoy the beach and oh, bon appetite!
Courtney Hampson can’t make this stuff up, in fact, she even did some research on this one. For a plethora of sea gull facts and figures, visit http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/. And, if you want to share your tales of feeder-woe, email firstname.lastname@example.org.