Discover more from The Granny Who Stands on her Head
Doing the Right Thing
Thought for the Fortnight
It all started because of the ‘mother’ in me.
A young seagull was stranded on the low roof next door. We could see it from an upstairs window.
It was bigger than a pigeon, but it was definitely not fully grown. What seems to be called a ‘fledgling’ (a word I knew well, but wrongly did not associate it with birds). I thought of it as being like a teenager. It was pacing up and down making a pitiful bleating noise. A call for help.
Occasionally, it tried to fly, but never seemed to get more than a few inches off the ground.
And there was a fair bit of commotion. A few seagulls on higher roofs were making frequent screeching sounds and swooping around from time to time. I assumed one was the mother, but how could know? I also imagined she was telling off this errant offspring that it should never have started on whatever mission got it onto our neighbour’s roof.
The next morning, the gull had moved to our small garden, but we had no idea whether it had flown or fallen. It paced even more, apparently searching for food. It pecked at our flowers, but didn’t think much of them, so that blossoms were discarded mindlessly.
Seagulls have long been a feature of the area where I live in North London. This is odd because we are nowhere near the sea. There are loads of them. They make their nests on our roofs. And they fly around noisily in the early hours of the morning.
What to do?
The bird was clearly hungry. A neighbour had thrown some kind of food from a window when it was on the roof, but this had been ignored. I thought the mother would find a way of feeding it or nudging it to fly, but there was no sign of that at all.
Was it better off in our garden near its mother or should we try to rescue this poor bird? It wasn’t eating and might lose energy fast. It was possibly injured by its various falls. And, surprisingly, foxes abound in inner London – I have seen them both in our street and in our garden. A non-mobile gull might be seen as an easy lunch.
We decided it was best to seek help.
I tried the obvious place by name – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). No telephone number. Then the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), but again, no success. They were looking for cruelty.
A local vet – no. The local Council – no. The Fire Department? I once met a posse of firemen in our street, who said they had just rescued a seagull. I thought it was funny at the time. Feeling slightly foolish, I phoned 999 and a kindly fireman explained they could release a trapped bird but had no ability to transport one.
Almost as an afterthought, he said why not try London Wildlife Protection? And he gave me a number.
Rescue Mission: London Wildlife Protection
Bingo! This was an organisation of volunteers whose exact job was rescuing birds. I spoke to a friendly man at the end of the phone. All I needed to do was to send a photo of the bird, together with my name and contact details – and they would come.
A volunteer contacted me within a couple of hours. I asked about feeding and he suggested I might put out some tinned tuna fish. Which I did and the gull eventually ate. I watched it pace up and down and periodically rest on a white garden rubbish bag it had taken a shine to.
Perhaps it was my feeding it, but I became slightly fond of this fledgling bird. Despite having heard gulls for years, I had never seen one so close for such a period of time. It had a certain grace and elegance.
The volunteer arrived later the same day with a net to capture the gull and a box to carry it (rather like a cat box). He said it was a herring gull and he would take it to a bird hospital which would nurture it until it could fly.
He was very efficient and the whole process took less than ten minutes.
But the presumptive mother bird, having been absent for several hours, was suddenly circling our house and even semi-dive-bombed us while the bird was being captured. Again, a lot of screeching and general commotion. The next-door neighbour shouted down that we should not have intervened between mother and fledgling.
And then the volunteer and bird were gone.
The minute they left, I felt terrible. The garden seemed hugely empty. Had I done the right thing to remove this bird from its known environment and, most importantly, its mother?
I looked up herring gulls on google and found that gulls are thought to be very intelligent animals and they mate for life. It was also suggested that they can feel emotions, such as grief. As I had somehow assumed.
Oh dear, perhaps I had acted too fast.
My husband tried to reassure me: “No, don’t worry – you saved its life.” And then he added helpfully: “Of course, the mother will be distressed. And perhaps when it grows up, the bird will be a bit screwed up.”
I had become a mother all over again. And mothers can never do the right thing. Or, at least that is what it feels like.
In text correspondence that evening about making a donation, I mentioned to the spokesman for London Wildlife Protection that I was feeling badly about taking the gull from its mother. Had I done the right thing?
I was immediately reassured that I had:
“We live in an urban ecosystem. That is not a natural wildlife ecosystem. The urban ecosystem is full of foxes, cats, dogs, bad people, cars etc. You definitely did a good action in this particular situation.”
If only we could receive such reassurance that we had done all the right things for our children.