[Tweeters] question re gull behavior

Gary Smith gsmith at smithandstark.com
Mon May 26 15:52:10 PDT 2014

Hi, Tweets,

I'm wondering what insights you might have on this:

Last evening I noticed a very interesting interaction between gulls on the
beach at Alki Point. I first noticed five adults (seemed to all be GWGU x
WEGU) in a commotion. Two gulls were in what I first thought was a
tug-of-war over food (which would be common), but upon looking closer, I
realized they had each other by the bill and were really going at it.

Shortly, two of the three bystander gulls departed, but the other remained
and watched. The two combatants continued to fight for what seemed like a
long time, certainly five minutes, perhaps longer. One gull pretty
consistently seemed to be more successful, eventually drawing blood, which
seemed to come from the corner of the mouth of the other.

Variously, they attacked each other at and around the bills, or stopped and
picked up various objects -- kelp, sticks, grasses. In this part of the
contest, if one gull would pick up something, (usually the one that had been
"losing,") the other gull would grab the object and try to take it away, or
the object would pull apart. The winning gull would usually throw away what
it took. Sometimes both gulls would pick up and parade around with grass or
sticks in their beaks. At one point, the gull that had been winning carried
around a much larger stick than the other gull, then exchanged it for a
small stick that it took it to the water, washed, and set aside. Then
they'd go at each other with their bills again.

Eventually, it seemed they reached a standoff. The gull getting the short
end of the battle considered its options. It stated its position loudly one
last time and flew off. It came back once or twice, but finally seemed to
leave for good. The 'winning' gull and the 'interested bystander' took up
close company.

So, what was that all about? Competing for a mate? (Wouldn't the mating
adults have already paired off and nested by now?) Disputing territory?
(There's plenty of beach and plenty of food, and not that many other gulls
around right now. Nor is this a big breeding spot anyway - in twenty-plus
years I've rarely seen a nest nearby.)

All thoughts greatly appreciated.


Gary T. Smith

Alki Point, Seattle

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