The Seagulls and Mr Fox

Peter and Mrs Peter are seagulls who live on our roof.

‘Herring gulls, actually,’ she’ll tell you, if you press her on the matter. ‘We’re herring gulls. Is that really so hard to remember?’

‘Check out our one and a half meter wingspan,’ adds Peter, who does work out a bit.

They were here before we were, as they keep reminding us; and if they have a name for us, it’s probably ‘staff’ – people who serve them.

‘It’s the new staff arriving,’ they said as our removals van pull in.

They are not enlightened employers; no one could call them that.

They shit on us from a great height, literally.

In exchange, we provide food and break the ice on the bird bath in winter, to enable them to drink.

And sometimes we try and save their young.

They usually parent three offspring; and about this time of year, they tumble down off the roof into the garden or onto the road.

They tumble down – but they cannot tumble back up again, being quite unable to fly yet.

And so at this time of year, Mr Fox is pretty alert – ‘feathers from heaven’, as they say. ‘The easiest meal all year.’

And on Tuesday, early in the morning, Mr Fox jumped the garden wall with incredible ease, and took the first of the babies to leave the nest.

Only a few grey feathers remain of a brief life; for a large bird who cannot fly is a ‘sitting duck’.

I don’t know if herring gulls mourn; I suspect their predominantly reptilian brain is not geared up for that.

Peter and Mrs Peter certainly don’t lose their appetite, unable to eat for grief. They are very able. And neither do they use the incident to advise their remaining children on ‘stranger danger’.

For later that day, the two other babies make the fool’s jump, one into the garden, one into the road.

They are as big as their parents, but hunched. They cannot fly, they cannot feed themselves, they walk around in a clueless daze…(join the rest of us)… and last night, my wife was worried.

‘He’s not going to survive a night in the road.’

This was true. It’s a fox highway when the shades lengthen and evening comes, and full of dangerous ginger.

So with patience, gentle steps and soothing words, Shellie is finally able to draw alongside the baby herring gull – who we’ll call Gerry. She picks him up and takes him through the house and into the garden, where his sibling, Aqua, is wandering in the gloom.

Their parents are nowhere to be seen. They do rather turn their care on and off, which must be unsettling for their offspring. In later life, they may tend towards ambivalent attachment patterns.

But more pressingly, will Gerry and Aqua survive the night? They’d have more chance here in the garden, behind a wall. But darkness is falling, the Fox family waking, and in the end, nature must take its course.

We close the curtains and go to bed.

‘It’s like picking up a chicken,’ says Shellie, when I ask her how it feels to pick up a baby herring gull.

‘I’ve never picked up a chicken,’ I say.

‘Nor have I,’ she replies.

(Note: When using ‘like’ as a preposition, in an analogous sense – as in, ‘similar to’ – it’s helpful if both speaker and listener are familiar with the object or experience to which the subject is being compared.)

Anyway, grammar aside (because this is a life and death situation) early the following morning, I stumble down stairs, and before even making a cup of tea, I go out into the garden.

What do I find?

I find them safe! Hurrah!

They sit together, like two teenagers, who haven’t quite made it home after a rough night. They are hunched, and look longingly through the patio window to the comfort of our front room.

They have survived the night and live to see another day; and, with a shrug of their young middle-class shoulders, they’re now just wondering where the staff are.

‘They seem to turn up when they want to,’ says Gerry.

‘Tell me about it,’ says Aqua.

P.S. The night after this blog was written, both Gerry and Aqua were taken by the fox. It was a brief hurrah.

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