Stephanie Reese and Jennie Wyatt took great pleasure in watching a pair of seagulls tend the nest they’d built on a protruding ledge of Safeco Plaza on Third Avenue at the beginning of June
The mother, whom they named “Kirby,“ would get off the nest’s at least three eggs only a few times a day. If she was gone for more than a few minutes, her partner, who was nicknamed “Dad,” would take over, said Reese.
“They were very, very sweet and conscientious,” said Wyatt.
But Reese and Wyatt’s hopes of seeing the chicks hatch were destroyed when they arrived at work early June 27 to find the nest gone.
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In a flurry of emails between Wyatt and Coleen Spratt, the general manager of Safeco Plaza, which is owned by CommonWealth Partners of Los Angeles, Spratt said the nest had been removed that morning at 5:30 a.m. by a member of the maintenance and engineering staff.
Spratt said in the emails to Wyatt that the engineer admitted clearing the site of what he described as nesting material, but also said there were no eggs or birds in the vicinity.
“We regularly remove nesting material from this roof, and all employees who perform this task have been educated on the process and the fact that they are not allowed to disturb the birds or touch any nest that has eggs,” Spratt wrote.
Spratt declined to comment to The Seattle Times when reached by phone, and calls to the building’s engineering department were not returned.
But Wyatt and Reese are not convinced.
“It was definitely not an abandoned nest,” said Wyatt. “When I looked out the window, the birds were still hopping around.”
Reese said she watched as the birds gathered some straw that had been left behind and carried it back to where the nest had been.
The mother then “sat on it for a couple of hours,” Reese said.
“It was surprisingly heartbreaking,” said Wyatt.
Gulls, informally called seagulls, are a protected migratory bird, and killing them or destroying their eggs without a permit issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is a violation of federal law, according to information provided by agency spokesman Brent Lawrence.
The number of permits issued annually depends upon the species’ population that year and the intended method of killing, according to the agency. Only methods determined to be humane, such as killing with a pellet gun or euthanizing in a carbon-dioxide chamber, are permitted.
Seagulls are also protected under Washington state law.
According to the Revised Code of Washington, it is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail to unlawfully take, kill or harm protected bird species or to “maliciously” destroy their eggs or nests.
Five years ago, two State Patrol troopers were put on paid administrative leave while they were criminally investigated for clubbing three baby seagulls to death at the Washington State Ferries terminal at Colman Dock.
The gulls were destroyed after a ferry employee complained to the troopers about a gull nesting on the roof of the administrative offices.
The troopers reportedly killed the babies so that the parents would leave, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors ultimately declined to file charges, saying the troopers’ actions, while wrong, did not rise to the level of a chargeable crime.
Reese and Wyatt said they know there is nothing that can be done about the nest, but they hope their story is a reminder to building managers and property owners about the protected status of gulls.
“They are in a position to protect it,” said Wyatt, “and that’s what they should be doing.”
Christine Clarridge can be reached at email@example.com or 206-464-8983. Information from Seattle Times researcher Gene Balk is included in this report.