Friday, 26 April 2013

Birds who play by the rules

Our department is moving to a new building soon and the thing I will miss most is watching the birds on the lawn and its surrounding shrubbery from my office window. I wrote about them here:


But the sound I will miss most is the herring gulls; I fear, although we are only moving a quarter of a mile away, our new location will be too far from the river Mersey for them. In his classic 1953 work, The Herring Gull’s World, the ethologist Niko Tinbergen wrote, ‘The voice of the herring gull is wonderfully melodious.’ I’m not sure I agree, but it is certainly characterful, and evocative of all our seaside summers past. Another fan of Larus argentatus is the Aberdeen resident Esther Woolfson, who writes about them in her new book, Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary. ‘Visible, audible, omnipresent, drifting endlessly in the sky above us, L. argentatus is another of the “urban exploiters” who seem numerous, safe in their very existence, but who aren’t,’ she writes. ‘Monogamous, capable of mutual recognition, of respecting their neighbours, living amicably with their partners, gulls are faithful to their homes, practise “site fidelity” and return to the same nest sites annually.’ In other words, gulls would be a far better symbol of uxuriousness than those supposed models of amorous fidelity, the doves, who are actually quite tarty.

In fact, if they were human, herring gulls would be model citizens in Cameron’s Britain. For they are the hardworking families, the strivers not the skivers, the birds who play by the rules and want to get on. Except, of course, when they swoop down and steal from your bag of chips with their beaks, as they have been known to do. Then they are part of our something for nothing culture.

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