Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Seagulls in the Ecosystem - Guest Post -

Via Flickr: Photo Credit
     Anyone who has had the pleasure of living near or visiting a coastal region has most likely encountered a Seagull (i.e., a bird within the Laridae family) at some point. It’s important to note that there really isn’t such a thing as Seagulls. Because the creatures spend the majority of their time on land, bird purists refer to them simply as gulls. Seagulls are easily identified by their grey or white bodies. They sometimes have black markings on their wings and heads. Like their appearance, their negative reputation precedes them. The purpose of this article is to evaluate that negative reputation that Seagulls have acquired over the years.

Via Flickr: Photo Credit

Seagulls AKA “Flying Rats” 

     Seagulls are often referred to as “Flying Rats with Wings.” Rats are most often perceived as dirty, diseased creatures 
that invade homes and then nest inside while scavenging for food. Whether that reputation is deserved is a subject for another paper. What matters is that comparison stirs negative emotions in the uninitiated hearer. While Seagulls are not viewed as disease carriers, they are viewed as massive collections of thieves, a reputation that they tend to share with rats.

Anthropomorphizing a Species 

     Much of the common perception of Seagulls is the result of human’s assigning human traits and belief systems on a species that is incapable of such moralistic belief systems. Humans as a species have a negative view of thieves. Thieves are often portrayed as a lazy and dumb individual who is incapable or unwilling to provide food in a respectable manner; while there are other perceptions of thieves, the characterization of the Seagulls in “Finding Nemo” align with the stupid thief. In the movie the Seagulls are portrayed as dumb birds that are incapable of much more than droning the word “mine” over and over again as they chase anything that they perceives is food.

     The fact that vacationing humans are commonly victims of Seagull’s kleptomaniac nature does not inspire the willingness to stop anthropomorphizing the bird long enough to discover that the Seagull might actually be necessary members of our ecosystem.

Other Animals and Scavenging 

     We as humans don’t tend to mind if other animals consume our food. Ducks and Geese are regularly fed by children all over the United States. Many households put out birdfeeders for passing birds. Seagulls on the other hand do not wait for humans to grant permission. If Seagulls did cater to humans we would probably be more willing to overlook the fact that they eat human food. Humans prefer that the animals receive food when we say they can.

Seagulls and Kleptomania 

     It’s important to realize that Seagulls are kleptoparasites. All that really means is that Seagulls do not reserve their kleptomaniac behavior to humans. They will steal bits of fish from feeding whales just as readily as they will pluck a chip from your plate.

Via Flickr: Photo Credit

Seagulls and Scavenging 

    Seagulls penchant for scavenging can actually be viewed as a public service. They do not reserve their scavenging to 
stealing from other animals. Seagulls are known to scavenge what humans think of as garbage. They are often found consuming organic litter and the dead corpses of animals that humans are too lazy or too busy to dispose of. They are willing to eat from garbage cans or landfills. In a world with a rapidly building landfill, any creature that is willing to consume the garbage that we discard is a necessary addition to our ecosystem.

Seagulls and Other Food Sources

    Seagulls do not survive solely off scavenging and stealing food from other creatures. Seagulls eat insects, fish, and eggs. The fact that they consume insects keeps the insect population in check. Seagulls are natural pest control for farmers and gardeners. Today we are not as reliant on “natural pesticides” due to the large supply of pesticides, but not all farmers are willing or able to use pesticides on their crops. Without pesticides crops are vulnerable to insect that could devour entire fields of crops. The folklore of Salt Lake City, Utah tells of an event called the Miracle of Gulls. It is called the Miracle of Gulls because in 1844 Seagulls saved the settlers’ lives by consuming the crickets that were ravenously eating the crops. Without the Seagulls they would not have had enough food to survive the winter.

    Seagulls are notorious thieves. They tend to steal from anything that has food, but that does not mean that they are evil creatures that should be eradicated. We should not underestimate the importance that Seagulls and other creatures with negative reputations have on the environment.

Ernie Allison is a bird enthusiast who grew a burning dislike for Seagulls after one pooped on his bare shoulder. Years later he began to study birds and realized that the enthusiastic shriekers weren’t all that bad. His writing is supported by

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