Is it wise to take parenting lessons with seagulls? | Life and style
After a rough time, I got some headache this week with something concrete that I need to be concerned about. It’s satisfying to tie the diffuse dread fog to a real glitch. Maybe you, too, would like to worry about something fairly trivial. If so, join me briefly: it’s a seagull chick. Before bird watchers start to vibrate with outrage unworthy of a seagull, yes, okay, a juvenile herring gull. Let’s call it this: JHG.
Thursday afternoon an explosion of scarier-than-usual screams alerts me to a commotion in the crime syndicate on the rooftop next door where I watch two seagulls (shhh, bird watchers, that’s the correct term ) raise a chick. I was obsessed with gulls even before the Crown: I love their lawless spirit and the way their yellow eyes match their giant scythe beaks. Every CCTV clip of a seagull flying Doritos to a Spar and every advisor assaulted for a straw of cheese (true story
) delights me; it is avian revenge for the worst excesses of the Anthropocene. I look up: JHG, a clumsy teenager, has fallen from the nest and is stuck on the gutter, flapping half-heartedly.
I watch, obsessively. His parents shout encouragement, he glances plaintively, but he’s stuck. “Should we have a ladder? I ask my husband, even though I know the answer. Sleep is elusive, both for noise and anxiety reasons. The next morning, things get worse: I wake up to a cacophony of a trawler landing 23,000 mackerel in our yard. I investigate, beset by faint parental descents and warning cries, and find something the size of a Yorkshire Terrier standing in confusion in the alleyway: JHG.
Inexplicably, no one else has cared about the most exciting thing that can happen in months. I tell my husband, but he works, so the energy he usually spends feigning interest in my bird sightings is directed elsewhere. I WhatsApp my children (they are at home, but communicating in person is considered aggression): no reaction. “Is it dead?” We answer, hours later. Thwarted, I send a message to the WhatsApp neighborhood, warning of the danger of seagulls, in deafening silence.
Fortunately, my best friend is currently obsessed with a cat who adopted her while in lockdown, so we tacitly agree to tell each other about our respective fixings. “Why does she keep looking at the fireplace?” she thinks. “I brought him some water, but I think he’s hungry,” I “answer.” “I want to let her out, but she won’t use the cat flap,” she said. “I keep asking what seagulls eat,” I complain. “But everyone says ‘chips’.” It lasts for hours.
Nascent online advice can be roughly summed up as “Nature: Crap Comes”. Unless JHG is injured, I’m supposed to be fine on my own. He looks good, just confused – he drinks, walks and rests behind the neighbor’s bike – but I’m afraid this may not end well.
The parents keep watch on the roof, trying to peck if someone gets too close, waiting for JHG to pull himself together. Wildly anthropomorphizing, I am moved by seagull parenthood: a hard and constant love and well-imposed limits! “Meanwhile, parents often withhold food in an attempt to encourage gulls to fly,” I read, taking amazed notes (I always buy treats for my giant sons: does holding back donuts help them spread their wings?)
On Sundays, my life is 90% seagull. I watch JHG all the time even though I should be working and despite my clearly expressed preference my job is not an “urban bird monitor”. I call for encouragement as he tests his wings, cementing my reputation as what a friend calls “the kind of crazy old lady who ends up nursing a crow.”
Then, around midnight, a terrifying cacophony: shrill cries of panic, machine gun croaks and the ominous sound of a howling cat. I look out, but only see the parents turning, white sails against the dark sky, calling and calling.
My son comes out of his room. “I think a cat had your baby,” he said. I take a torch and check the yard: JHG is gone. At the top of the nest, both parents are perched on the chimney pot. But isn’t that a third beak coming out? Do I imagine it? “I think he may have taken the plane!” I call my son. “You’re going with the Disney version, cool,” he says and walks over to the bed.
The next morning, I’m afraid he’s right: there is no sign of my baby. It was probably just a kebab wrapper flapping in the wind. Of course: we are in 2020, everything is terrible. Nature may be healing, but it’s absolutely not here to make us feel better. I sulk all day.
In the evening, as I gloomily contemplate the stock of tuna that I acquired for JHG, I hear my husband calling. Inexplicably, he’s in the yard with binoculars, looking up at the roof. “There he is,” he said, pointing. I grab the binoculars: a gray shape indeed floats, tottering around the chimney pot. JHG lives! “Be careful, fool,” I shout, absurdly happy. Then I force myself to stop looking. My heart can’t take it anymore.
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