I did a post last month that featured a Glaucous Gull with an injured left leg who I dubbed “Long John Silver” after the one-legged pirate in the novel Treasure Island. A bit whimsical but not entirely silly. Gulls as pirates is a common theme among bird aficionados, professional and amateur alike. I quote from an article on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website:
“Next time you go out birding, watch for pirates. They may not brandish cutlasses, guzzle grog, or walk the plank, but they’re out there, lounging in the leafy shade or plying the winds, just waiting to pounce on passing treasures.
“Piracy, or ‘kleptoparasitism’ to use the technical term, is quite common in the animal world, occurring in everything from mollusks to mammals and 197 species of birds (representing 33 families).
“Many birds only dabble in piracy, but some—such as gulls and corvids—are notorious for it.”
I like “pirate”. It’s easier to spell than “kleptoparasite” and has a nice ring to it. I give you a little photo collection of these feathered pirates in action, beginning with Long John himself.
This Herring Gull has claimed his “treasure chest”. Captain Kidd?
And this Great Black-backed Gull trying to steal a fish from an Osprey has to be Blackbeard! They are the largest gull in the world and rule the coast. The Osprey managed to keep his catch but holding on to the fish and fending off the large gull was tough.
Size does not deter these rogues though, as evidenced in this next photo. I took this at a beach on Sanibel Island last March. (I just beat the Covid-19 shutdowns on that trip.) A Laughing Gull is looking to snatch part of the Pelican’s catch.
The next photo is from Aransas NWR near Corpus Christi TX about 2 years ago. You can almost see a disgusted look on the Osprey’s face as the Ring-billed Gull appears to ask: “You gonna finish that?” I saw the Osprey flying away with his meal a few minutes later. It was apparently looking to have an uninterrupted lunch!
Who says there is honor among thieves? Here’s a Bonaparte’s Gull trying to grab something from a larger Herring Gull. Gulls are certainly bold pirates.
This looks like a fight over the spoils.
So the next time you bring a picnic to the beach, make sure a pirate isn’t eying your cargo.
One last thing. I quoted an article from the Cornell Lab. This is a great site for birdwatchers and anyone interested in birds. It’s a good resource for identifying birds and has many online courses. They sponsor citizen science including eBird and Project FeederWatch. I haven’t tried it but some of my fellow birders use the Cornell app, Merlin, that ids birds from photos. Check them out.