Sea-side supper (and breakfast and lunch)

Often when we visit the seashore, we either see the birds flying overhead or resting on the sand. But we also get to see them hunting for food, either through their own means or taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by others – be they other animals or human beings.

Crabs are a favorite food for various birds, including boat-tailed grackles (Quiscalus major) and sanderlings (Calidris alba).

boat-tailed grackle IMG_6386©Maria de Bruyn resSanderling IMG_5024© Maria de Bruyn resSanderling IMG_5025© Maria de Bruyn res

Grackles also snack on sea oats – including the adult males, adult females and juveniles.

Boat-tailed grackle IMG_1361©Maria de Bruyn resBoat-tailed grackle IMG_1400©Maria de Bruyn res

fish IMG_5688 (2)© Maria de Bruyn


One afternoon on Topsail Island, I came across a fish on shore that had been abandoned.

ring-billed gull IMG_5190© Maria de Bruyn

Just after passing it, I turned to see a ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) fly in, obviously with the intention of making that fish its supper.

The gull was eating delicately, plucking bits of the fish off and eating at its leisure.

Unfortunately, the feast didn’t last long for the gull because a thief in the form of a large great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) swooped in. The ring-billed gull was not happy but couldn’t do much about it (click on the link to the video).

ring-billed gull IMG_5224© Maria de Bruyn resRing-billed gull IMG_5255© Maria de Bruyn

The people fishing from the shoreline frequently have a group of birds waiting nearby. This can definitely be to their benefit, as was the case for this juvenile great black-backed gull that was tossed a fish by a man wrapping up his activities for the day. He told me that he shared fish with the birds on a regular basis.

great black-backed gull IMG_4978© Maria de Bruyngreat black-backed gull IMG_4985© Maria de Bruyn res

Laughing gull  IMG_1150© Maria de BruynOther people also offer the seabirds food, but not always of the nutritious kind. Two days running, I saw Laughing gull  IMG_1194© Maria de Bruyn resa young man throwing orange-colored morsels into the air, which were snapped up eagerly by laughing gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla) and common terns (Sterna hirundo). Unfortunately, it appears that he was feeding them cheetohs or some kind of cracker with lots of food coloring. The birds seemed to be really anxious to snag a piece; obviously human beings aren’t the only species prone to eating junk food.



Other birds, like this laughing gull and snowy egret (Egretta thula) were more successful in finding their own food. And that is as it should be!

laughing gull IMG_5050©Maria de Bruynsnowy egret IMG_3329© Maria de Bruyn

Danger on the beach!

great black-backed gull IMG_4207© Maria de Bruyn resDuring a recent visit to Topsail Island, one of my favorite get-away sites, the various gulls, terns and other birds were very busy: resting, eating and investigating beach debris such as twigs, like this great black-backed gull (Larus marinus).

When I looked through my zoom lens and saw two juveniles of the species picking up and dropping items into the sand, I decided to photograph them. Given some deterioration in my eyesight, even through the zoom lens, I thought one of them was examining a large black twig so I shot away. Imagine my surprise when I downloaded the photos to my computer and enlarged them to see what the gull was actually carrying around!

great black-backed gull IMG_4297© Maria de Bruyn

Most of the time, s/he appeared to be grasping the knife by the blade rather than the handle end, which totally amazed me.

great black-backed gull IMG_4277© Maria de Bruyn res bgreat black-backed gull IMG_4306© Maria de Bruyn

The bird would drop the paring knife and then pick it up again.

great black-backed gull IMG_4292© Maria de Bruyn resgreat black-backed gull IMG_4280© Maria de Bruyn res

One time it was by the handle.

great black-backed gull IMG_4284© Maria de Bruyn resgreat black=backed gull IMG_4288© Maria de Bruyn res

I wish I had realized what the gull was doing when I was there so that I could have picked up the utensil but at the time, I was convinced it was a twig and after shooting the series, I turned to other birds.

great black-backed gull IMG_4297© Maria de Bruyn res b

I posted the photo on a Facebook birding group page with the remark that: “Beach-goers and fishermen need to pay a lot more attention to what they leave behind onshore!” The responses that came were interesting:

– wow…scary the things people leave behind
– I hope he dropped it when he realized how sharp it was!
– Smelled like fish most likely….
– Sometimes they ‘steal’ from us while our backs are turned on a fishing pier!
– Maybe he’s in a gang?
– Considering it’s Topsail, more likely one of Blackbeard’s crew. Nice image of the gull.

And then one person apparently doubted that the photo I had posted was real: “The size of the gull and the size of the knife looks fishy. The knife is only a bit longer than the beak. That must be one big gull. It’s all in the perspective, I guess.” Since I don’t own Photoshop or some other program with which I can combine photos or insert things into photos, I can assure you that the series shows what happened.

While the respondent who mentioned birds stealing items from people is stating a fact, this site was at the end of the island very far from any piers. So I can only assume that some careless human left the knife behind on the beach (like the cell phone cover and plastic that I collected for the garbage that day).

It is well known that the trash on beaches often ends up in the sea, harming animals that ingest it and contributing to large floating garbage piles.great black-backed gull IMG_4311© Maria de Bruyn resOn 20 September 2014, the Ocean Conservancy is sponsoring the International Coastal Cleanup — the world’s largest volunteer effort to clean up waterways and the ocean. I don’t live near an ocean but will pick up trash near a large lake in my area. And I urge you all to participate in some way if you can! It may be a drop in the ocean/waterways bucket but the drops add up!