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Gull Rescue

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I've mentioned in earlier posts about the visible carnage around Dunkirk Harbor, most of it a natural outcome of having a huge gathering of birds in very severe weather. I found  many places where a bird's breast and belly feathers had frozen to the ice or asphalt, and had to be ripped out for the bird to go anywhere.

This looked to me like swan or goose down--a large (foot-long) patch of the softest white down and body feathers. 

The walking wounded--a domestic goose whose foot should be fully hidden in dense feathers. But his flank feathers have been ripped out, most likely by freezing to the ground. Many of the birds I saw had disheveled belly feathers from these events. The temperature hadn't risen above the single digits for weeks. 

I feel similar bare patches on my psyche this winter, things pulled out by this wicked freeze, that ought to have remained in place. It's been a character-building experience. Writing this, I'm looking out at about 9" of compacted snow. A buck, his antlers newly shed, punching through it in a search for seed and corn under the feeder.  I trust by the time this post sees publication, it will all be gone. I hope it will. If this winter's taught me anything, it's not to take anything for granted. March snowstorms, April snowstorms. They happen right here in Ohio. I've been in a May blizzard on Cranberry Mountain in West Virginia. One in June, too, near Steele, North Dakota. Sometimes it snows in June.

 My rehabiliator's heart was aching. I hoped this goose could make it through the rest of this brutal winter with half his flank feathers gone.

All around--death and celebration. A beautiful immature glaucous gull feasting on a red-breasted merganser.

And another young glaucous gull, taking its last rest, frozen into the ice. No one saw it before it was too late.

So when I saw an immature herring gull flapping and struggling on a sidewalk, I broke into a trot. This one, at least, wouldn't die young.

As I ran, I felt in my pocket for my car keys.

The poor thing had settled down, defecated, and its own excrement had run under its belly and frozen solid. Oh, boy. There's a metaphor in that. Stuck in your own frozen sh-t. I feel ya, kid. Let me see what I can do.

Often when I'm flapping my wings against the ground, I'll call Shila. She'll whip out her car keys, deftly scrape my feathers free...

listen to my squawks of protest

tell me it's all going to be OK

and toss me back into the air to fly another day.


Oh, bless you for freeing that gull! It brought tears to my eyes! So much beauty to be seen there, yet so much tragedy. Even though there were many beyond saving, you are surely the human equivalent of an angel to save as many creatures as you do.

Posted by Anonymous March 4, 2014 at 3:56 AM

Ditto what mimimanderly wrote. And I laughed, softly, about you having a friend who will scrape your feathers off the ground and get you flying again. You are a treasure, dear Julie Zickefoose.

I dare say the world could do just fine with one less Herring Gull, but then your story is so reminiscent of the famous "starfish story" that I think originated with the wonderful writer Loren Eiseley...

Reading this and seeing your photos brought tears to my eyes too. He was so lucky that you happened to be near. I'm so glad you also have such a friend.

The older I get, the lower my emotional tolerance for suffering and death. Last night on the news they shared photos of an epic fight to the end between giant constrictor and alligator – and my stomach wrenched for the alligator! (You'd have to understand my antipathy towards gators/crocs to realize how soft I've gotten!) So the first part of your post had me on the edge and I couldn't look at the photos; just too sad. Your sweet rescue of a fearful, fighting young gull at the end pushed me over the edge and started the tears. Thank-you for saving one….

We haven't seen much of this type of problem so far. Part of the reason is the ice goes for miles and there are no gulls around the bay or the shore line just now.

This winter is so cold and the snow so deep we are seeing up to 8 deer under our feeders and that is during the day.

We named two small ones Hover and Electrolux because they do a fine job of sucking up every bit of seed in the yard.

Thanks for caring enough to save a lowly gull.


There is so much spirit and love in what you do, Julie. You are inspiring in every way. Every struggling creature should cross paths with someone like your beautiful life-saving self. The world would be a much kinder place.

Cyberthrush: I had never heard this "famous starfish story" before and I thank you for providing a link to it. Needless to say, it, too, brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of a time when my husband and I used to go to the beach for a few days in May to celebrate our anniversary. As we would walk along the tideline, we would turn over all the horseshoe crabs that washed up on their backs. Some were already dead, but if we could save any of them, we couldn't just pass them by.

Posted by Anonymous March 5, 2014 at 3:57 AM

Metaphors abound. Glad for those gulls that there's a JZ in their midst, to lend a helping hand. Glad for you, JZ, that you've got a friend at the ready, with the tools required to scrape a living soul off the pavement, literal or otherwise.


Posted by KH Macomber March 6, 2014 at 6:23 AM

Observing nature is not for the faint-hearted.

I enjoy your writing and am happy that I "re-found" your blog.

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