herring gull, herring gull family behaviour, herring gull juvenile, herring gulls as parents, herring gulls nesting on roofs
The young herring gull that fell from the chimney pot nest to land, incredibly unscathed onto our flat roof some 6 or 7 metres (20ft) below, continued to thrive thanks in part to sheer good fortune but mainly to his attentive parents. With very little in the way of shade he struggled a bit on the hottest of days and I took pity on him, tipping water from the bedroom window onto the roof to create a puddle he could drink from and cool his feet in. Other than that he was very much left to his own devices.
He took to standing on the ledge of the lantern, which was perhaps cooler on his feet.
The young gull’s life changed dramatically today when, with all the drama and excitement I have come to expect from our gull residents and announced with a great cacophony of noise from both his parents, his sibling parachuted down to join him from above. Her arrival really was a magical sight to behold and although we are discouraged from anthropomorphising other fauna species, the gulls certainly displayed several ’emotions’. Both adults stood on the edge of next-door’s roof, as I said before making a particularly great deal of noise, which is what prompted me to run upstairs to see what was occurring and I was just in time to capture the moment she dropped in, rather gracefully for a first landing.
The new arrival was clearly very excited while ‘our’ little chap looked a bit bemused and maybe a little intimidated. He inched towards her for a closer look while she made several little bouncy leaps, clearly excited and loving the new-found use for her wings although the tail feathers aren’t quite long enough to use for perfect co-ordination yet. The parents remained standing close by, keeping up the aggressive-defensive-protective squawking racket.
The new arrival settled on the ground and picked up an object from the rooftop, a piece of stick or something similar and offered it to her brother, which he accepted.
After a few minutes things began to calm down, the new arrival was clearly enjoying her new-found flying ability and was keen to show it off. Our youngster watched with great interest as she lifted herself into the air and although he had shown little sign of trying his wings before now, suddenly seemed to realise that perhaps he could do that to. So he did.
She eventually settled down a little and ventured across onto our roof, looking a little less sure now the excitement had worn off. Having a better look at the newby I’m sure I’m right about referring to it as ‘she’. This bird is slightly smaller than the other and could be a fraction younger as she still has more downy feathers around her face, neck and breast.
The young gull accepted his sibling immediately and there was no apparent rivalry or squabbling behaviour between them, so is it possible that although separated as young nestlings, they knew they were related? Perhaps they had been able to keep up communication from their separate locations and recognised one another’s voices, or maybe it was the parents’ behaviour towards them both that united them. It was a bit clearer now why ‘our’ young one had apparently spent so much time alone; the parents had two nest locations to cope with and to defend as well as having to share food between the two chicks. They deserve a lot of credit for their dedication and not abandoning either of them.
The family reunion brought about a noticeable change in our gull’s behaviour, he seemed to suddenly go up a gear and following his sister’s example began testing his own ability to fly.
The parent gulls changed their feeding behaviour today too; rather than the young ones begging and tapping a parent’s beak to bring forth food, the parents now arrived with food which they deposited some distance away from the young ones who then had to ‘find’ it for themselves.
The parents were still around but less obviously so, when they were not away searching for food they were keeping look-out from the roof above. The two young ones were rarely more than a metre or so apart now, if one found something interesting to peck at the other was there immediately and they seemed to play with random pieces of stick and stones that they found, picking them up and dropping them, practicing for dealing with future potential food.
A hot day saw both young gulls uncomfortable and trying to squeeze into small areas of shade. I poured some water from the window onto the roof and ‘our’ gull, used to me doing that came straight over and began to drink. The other one followed more cautiously, but seemed to have no idea what to do with the water or how to go about drinking it. He tried to show her, but this was a new experience for her having been up in a nest on a chimney for most of her short life.
Things got a bit hectic for a few days when the gulls from the neighbouring chimney brought their two young ones down too and both sets of parents had some very noisy encounters on occasions, but the sets of young ones didn’t mix much. They continued to strengthen their wings, preen out the remaining down from their feathers, and rest a lot while waiting for those tail feathers to grow.
Every event of the gull family’s time with us had been accompanied with noise and announced with drama, so the young ones’ anticipated departure came as a bit of an anti-climax. We were sitting outside enjoying the late afternoon sunshine when suddenly, first one, then the other took off from the roof, glided over our heads and landed on next door’s lawn. So that’s more or less it with this family of gulls for this year. It’s been interesting, but I shall be glad not to be woken by them at dawn. I’m not looking forward to having to clean off the roof.
Emily Heath said:
Very exciting to have a sister drop down from above. Some of their behaviour together seems very touching, showing us the gentle side of these creatures that usually terrorise us!
Their ‘reunion’ was fascinating, they seemed excited to meet one another and ‘our’ little chap’s behaviour changed noticeably once he had company. They definitely had a connection and communicated with one another which was lovely to see. I know the adults can be intimidating but I’m very impressed with their parenting ethos!
Thank you Finn. It has been a real privilege to gain some insight into the everyday lives of the gulls and hopefully this story shows them in a slightly better light. I can understand why people find them difficult neighbours, they are noisy, make a mess and can display aggression, which is the side of them most of us see unfortunately. I’m still amazed that little gull survived the fall in the first place!
Finn Holding said:
This is a great story, and a testament to the intelligence and durability of the herring gull (and your benevolence!) that the one that fell from the nest survived.
Thank you Maggie, I’m happy the gull saga ended well too, not all herring gulls fare well and I have to admit they are not especially easy neighbours. I am definitely enjoying being able to sleep a little later in the mornings now!
I have enjoyed following this families fortunes, and glad to hear that this episode has a happy ending!