One day, I came out of a sandwich shop juggling a soft-drink and a single slice of pizza draped precariously across a paper plate. As I stepped through the door, something large and white whooshed past my shoulder. I looked down to discover every bit of cheese had been lifted from my pizza.
Although many people consider gulls raucous and rude, I’ve learned that they are mannerly. One day, as I photographed a flock of Laughing Gulls, I realized that I could anticipate when one was preparing to leave. Moments before take-off, the departing gull would stretch its wings skyward at a sharp angle, signaling, “No cause for alarm, but I’m leaving now.”
I have since observed this behavior in both moderate and large-sized groups. In small social groups, the behavior disappears.
I took this photo before I noticed the behavior. The bird in the foreground is signaling its intentions.
When birds depart in small groups in rapid succession or suddenly en masse, a predator is near. In this case, a leashed dog.
Many years ago, I was photographing wading birds at Taylor Park in Largo, Florida. I was kneeling at the top of an embankment to stabilize my camera. Some birds were walking in the grass; others were perched in a tree. But then, they all started leaving.
“That’s strange,” I thought.
I stood up and turned; jumped up and stumbled backward. At the water’s edge, a very large alligator had crept up behind me. Its eyes glowered, and its powerful tail waved in the water.
Discovered, and targeting prey that now seemed much larger, the alligator lowered itself into the shallows and vanished in the mud.
That day, the birds signaled to one another, but to me as well. As I continue birding, I’m sure they will teach me many lessons.
Image of alligator by Oliver Weidmann from Pixabay.
Gull photos by the author, Carol Fullerton-Samsel.