Dangles is one of my favourite birds on the Island.
He (or she) is a Red Billed seagull – a bird that many New Zealanders aren’t fond of, especially when picnicking near a beach. But amazingly their numbers are declining and they are classified as vulnerable. Seagulls are long-lived birds – living for about twenty years, so while we may see lots of them about now, in a few years there will be a sharp decline in their numbers.
On our second year of living on the Island (Miss Sea was already a resident) we both noticed a seagull sitting on the grass out the front of our unit, beneath the Macrocapa. (I’m always amazed birds manage to find the right places to be rescued). The bird was behaving strangely, although it was alert it wasn’t flying away with the others or standing – it just sat on the grass watching us.
I kept an eye on him and it became obvious there was something wrong with his legs; he couldn’t stand on them. He was a young gull with his dark coloured beak and legs and brown markings on his feathers.
I threw food out to him, which was problematic, because if the food landed too far in front of him he’d flap his wings to reach the food but get too much momentum and lift off and have to fly away and circle back to land on the food. Eventually we reached a solution where – if my aim was good – I could throw the food slightly behind him, and he’d stagger to his weak legs and totter backwards and he’d end up at the food.
After quite a few months of this – he was a smart bird and turned up regularly for food – he became stronger and could stand on his feet – but still could only stagger backwards.
Dangles is recognisable by his worn tail feathers – from shuffling backward – and his legs that ‘dangle’ when he flies (hence his name). Sometimes he will tuck his legs underneath him (not straight out like other seagulls) so they disappear and when he comes in to land ‘he peddles’ his legs like landing gear. His head is a narrower shape than the other gulls too.
He has learned to fly in front of me and catch food – thus escaping the rest of the gulls on the ground.
If I’m sitting outside on the deck or at the table by the beach, Dangles will quite often fly in and stand on the table, and just ‘hang’ with me.
In 2015 I noticed for the first time the rims of his eyes turning a brighter red, along with his beak and legs. These were his breeding colours and for the first time mild mannered Dangles found his voice – squawking angrily like the other gulls. After breeding season his beak and eyes turned darker again.
He can stand quite strongly these days, and walk forwards – if a little drunkenly. He doesn’t run about like the other gulls.
We left the Island in 2014 to look after another island, and while we were away I asked our replacement caretaker how Dangles was and he replied “Dangles is Dangles”. I didn’t know what to make of that. We arrived back on the Island almost a year later, but within a day of returning Dangles flew up to me to say hello.
I’m Fiona (Fe). For the past six years I’ve lived on tiny, privately owned Islands in New Zealand with my partner who is an Island caretaker. I’ve developed Islomania (an obsessional enthusiasm or partiality for islands); particularly around bird life, beach clean-ups and pest eradication.
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