Readers’ wildlife photographs

May 1, 2015 • 7:50 am

First off are a northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) and a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) from Stephen Barnard of Idaho (I lost the email, so correct me if the IDs are wrong):



Reader Ed Kroc from the Vancouver area sent a picture-story of nature red in tooth, claw, and beak:

I thought I’d send along a series of photos from a recent episode I witnessed between a young Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) and her reluctant meal. It was an interesting opportunity to watch a young gull grow up a little.

The first photo shows the gull trying to pick at some inedible scrap of a more successful predator’s lunch. I watched her poke and prod this item for several minutes. She dragged it through the surf and tried to bite it, making pitiful, begging mew sounds the whole time. This gull is about nine and a half months old and can catch some of her own food, but she is still partially dependent on her parents for survival.

1GWGull juvenile with scraps

Unbeknownst to me at the time, her dad (I’m inferring that relation) was nearby in the water, paddling around the dock looking for food. I only noticed him when he walked quickly up on shore with a fresh crab dangling from his bill, and the juvenile started running with her scrap straight toward him, mewing desperately. He jogged up to the high tide line, dropped the crab on the rocky shore, and took a few steps back to watch the juvenile. In the second photo you can see she has just reached the crab, picking it up tentatively by a kicking leg. The now discarded piece of inedible flotsam is visible just beneath the crab.

2GW Gull juvenile receiving crab

The next two photos show the the young gull learning the wrong way to handle a live crab. I’m sorry to say I don’t know the identity of the mighty crustacean, but he refused to resign himself to his fate. The battle went on for a couple minutes, with the gull flipping the crab every which way and the crab flailing his legs and snapping his claws as menacingly as possible. It was somewhere in the heat of battle that the parent gull lost interest and walked back into the water to peruse the docks again.

3GW Gull vs crab 1

4GW Gull vs crab 2

Eventually, the gull realized (or maybe just chanced upon the fact) that the crab’s belly was soft and permeable. She got a good grip and bit down in the fifth picture. However awkwardly, bill had triumphed over claw.

5GW Gull piercing the belly

The sixth photo shows her extracting the succulent noms. No more than a few seconds after the battle ended, these two Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) showed up on the shore. My guess is they were watching the dirty work from the trees.

6GW Gull gets the noms

And finally, just like a human child, the young gull made a complete mess of her meal and the beach. In the last photo, legs and other body parts are strewn unceremoniously around her feet. She seems to be unsure of what to do with her scraps. There’s also a lot of meat that’s left! The crows quickly took care of that though once the gull wandered off to go investigate something in the water.

7GW Gull makes a mess
I wonder what the gull learned from this experience, if anything? I wonder if her next battle with a crab will go any smoother? I wonder just how little she knows about life as a gull yet? All part of growing up, I guess.

23 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

  1. A very interesting episode. Like Ed I have observed similar behaviour in young Herring Gulls – Larus argentatus. The juveniles beg from the parents as long as they can get away with it, putting the head low in supplication.

    1. I suppose parental time investment after fledging links with the intelligence of gulls (& corvids). Better survival chances if they show them food sources…

      1. Oh, I love watching my crow families over the season, the teaching of the parents (and perhaps a previous year’s offspring) and the wide-eyed learning, with a few stumbles, of the immatures.

  2. I wonder what the gull learned from this experience, if anything?

    How to open a crab, but that efficiently extracting the meat is hard. We should not give the juvenile too hard a time: I know lots of adult humans who learned the same thing the first time they were confronted with crabs for dinner. 🙂

  3. The crab doesn’t come with a manual and the adult can’t talk the kid through it. This is what they call OJT, some places. That is – On The Job Training.

  4. Good stuff as ever.

    Just commenting to remind JAC and all the photographers how much these posts are appreciated, even if there aren’t many comments.

    1. I second that. Especially to our most frequent Rs’WP supplier: Stephen Barnard. I see and read about your efforts and adventures here every day.

      I think the young gull was working on a sea cucumber meal before the lesson in crabbing.

      1. That’s what I came to say – looks like a Stichopus. No wonder the gull was having trouble with it. A rubbery meal.

    2. Yes! I always appreciate the animal photos and stories sent in by the Professor’s readers, even if I don’t comment often. Today’s offerings were especially wonderful. Thanks Stephen and Ed!

  5. Nice photos of interesting behaviors.

    Sometimes the behaviors of young birds really are funny. Once I watched an adult meadowlark perch on a telephone wire. Soon its fledgling flew in and after a little fluttering managed to settle beside it. And apparently relaxed a little too much. It swung down to hang headfirst from its claws. It looked around as if trying to reason this out. Finally it released its feet, fluttered unsteadily a moment, and flew down.

  6. The harriers have just returned to my neck of the woods this week. Great to see such a lovely photo of one. Nice gull story!

  7. Stunning Gray Ghost, Stephen!

    Ed, I so enjoyed the gull pictures and story. I take it you’ve been observing this family for a while? It’s so satisfying to have a chance to do something like that and to learn so much about their behavior!

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