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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs

Air Date: Week of June 16, 2017

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Two juvenile Herring Gulls spar over a tasty spider crab. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Seagulls don’t have the best of reputations; people even call them “rats with feathers” and some think they’re rather stupid. But Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender disagrees and marvels as Herring Gulls and Black-backed Gulls skillfully hunt for spider crabs on the Connecticut Shore.

Transcript

CURWOOD: We stay at the seaside now to consider one of its most persistent creatures, seagulls.
Some people find them annoying, as they aggressively attempt to filch food from beach picnics, when they aren’t scavenging around garbage dumps or simply quarreling among themselves. But our Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender wants to set the record straight. Mark watches gulls on the Connecticut Shore near his home and says they’re smart and resourceful and surprisingly great hunters.

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs
© 2017 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

LENDER: The sun comes up like a crucible of molten ore, and the horizon is the anvil, and the waves the hammer of the forge. Then, when every sign warns of the storm that is to come, the wind gives out, the sea grows calm. Fog, thick as coal smoke, rises and drifts toward shore.

Now, on the middle grounds where the ocean shallows to a knee-deep pool, again where the rip of the tide curls along the bite, crustaceans with their ten arms each leave the bottom reaching for the light. Driven by Life’s most fundamental need they rise. A myriad of Spider Crabs.


Adult Black-backed Gull returns from the water with a spider crab. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Wings and webbed feet aligned to meet them. Long yellow bills sharp as teeth will greet them:. Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls. The Ravening of the Horde
Gulls torpedo headfirst wings tucked, buried up to the shoulder. Water splashing voices crashing each and almost every plunge they surface with a dark star, an array of spiny arms, the pincers snapping. Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls each hold their angry prize, just out of reach of bright gull eyes.
The “skree-ree-ree-ree-ree!” of Herring Gulls and the clacking of their wings. The “raw-craw!” of the Black-backs. Yearling gulls whistling in indignation, that incoming class of always-hungry freshman, and what one finds another one wants. Theft, not possession, is the nine out of 10 parts.

So they land on the beach and throw a crab down and lift it up and nibble an arm and pin it there with the point of beak. Better to be the ones that eat!

Now over the deep the gulls go soaring. Then down, where waves ring against the rocks like the clattering of bells. Where the pilings are draped in blue mussel shells. Where breakers comb the seaweeds, dark green tresses. Where barnacles like sequined dresses shimmer with the tide and the end of summer warms the night.


A first year juvenile Herring Gull prepares to devour its prize. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Full in the belly, Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls preen and close their eyes, content.

Spider crabs? All spent.

[WAVES AND BLACK-BACK AND HERRING GULLS CALLING]
CURWOOD: And to see some of Mark Seth Lender’s pictures, wing on over to our website LOE dot org.

[WAVES AND BLACK-BACK AND HERRING GULLS CALLING]

 

Links

More about seagulls, including the ones Mark knows on a first-name basis

Learn more about the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

 

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