THE FIRST TIME I recall seeing gulls, I was heading west to California, passing by the Great Salt Lake.
How did they get there?
Well, of course, they flew, though more than 800 miles inland from the Pacific. Some species of gulls are among the great flyers, capable of rivaling passenger-plane distances.
They’re also the state bird of Utah, with a monument to them in Salt Lake City for eating insects, saving Mormon settlers’ crops in 1848.
Gulls are large, vocal, smart and assertive.
At the beach, you might see them grabbing a clam or a mussel, flying high to drop it onto the rocks below for the morsel inside.
Some regard gulls as pests. At fishing piers, they know there’s food to be had. They’re noisy and aggressive and might steal from another gull or a fisherman’s bucket. A colleague says their sharp squawks mean, “Mine. Mine.”
They’re able to drink saltwater, thanks to glands that remove the salt.
If someone on the deck of a state ferry is feeding gulls — look out below. They also can let fly large droppings. So don’t stand under someone holding food aloft for a gull to take. It’s something I’ve experienced only once.
Ivar Haglund, the late, local character, restaurateur and self-promoter, loved gulls. His Acres of Clams on the waterfront encourages diners to feed the gulls — but not the pigeons. There’s a statue of Haglund feeding gulls streetside on Alaskan Way. (It’s by Richard Beyer, known for “Waiting for the Interurban” in Fremont.)
On full display on the waterside are the birds’ athleticism and aggressiveness. They love French fries. People buy orders of them just to share. They extend an arm over the railing and hold one fry, and it’s gone in a deft swoop. Or they’ll toss them high into the air, and competing gulls show off their fielding skills. Hardly a miss. It’s a tourist attraction and entertainment. Maybe it’s not the best diet.
But, do the gulls know whether their glands also will remove salt from fries?