Los Farallones

Dispatches from Point Blue’s field station on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

What do gulls eat?

Western Gulls.  Photo: RJ Roush

‘Much that is good and all that is evil has gathered itself up into the Western Gull.
…cruel of beak and bottomless of maw…this gull asks only two question of any other living thing: First, “Am I hungry?” (Ans. “Yes”) Second, “Can I get away with it?” (Ans. “I’ll try).’ 

So wrote naturalist William Leon Dawson in The Birds of California in 1923, and a brilliant demonstration of that bottomless maw is found in the SEFI Gull JuJu Archive.  The Archive, cherished for posterity in a tin box in our data room, is a random collection of strange and interesting objects brought to Southeast Farallon Island by gulls.


The Archive.  Photos: Scarlett Hutchin
The gulls don’t often carry things around in their bills for long, preferring to swallow them first and ask questions later, so it’s reasonable to assume that everything in the Gull Juju Archive has probably been swallowed and regurgitated by a gull at least once.  Things like a six inch plastic toy hammer, a baby doll leg, a rubber tortoise, a golf ball, a set of vampire teeth, a collection of large fish hooks and four jelly beans still sealed in a bag inside a plastic Easter egg.  

There are fragments of driver’s licences and credit cards, a key, a few toy cars, a pacifier, Lego blocks, marbles, a balloon that reads ‘happy f***ing birthday’, a drinks stirrer from a restaurant in Newport Beach and another from Denver.

And if none of these were impressive enough evidence of the awesome power of the gull’s gullet, SEFI biologist Pete Warzybok tells me that not only has he seen a Westen Gull catch and swallow a flying Rufus Hummingbird, he has also seen one regurgitate a tennis ball.  Yes, seriously, a tennis ball.

Western Gull.  Photo: Scarlett Hutchin