Nature Notes: Fred's Eyes


Fred is an old gull, a very quiet and gentle spirit. As are most older gulls, Fred has deep eyes, eyes that have seen more than most people will ever see. An old gull like Fred may be 30 years old, maybe more. He has seen the wild and stormy weather of the coast at it's beautiful and ferocious best. Fred has soared over giant waves breaking on the river bar that were 50 feet tall. Fred has seen the winds blow over 100 mph out on the open stretch of water beyond the entrance to the Columbia.

Fred could be one of those wandering gulls, the kind which flies to Mexico for the winter, a Baja bird perhaps, a Sea of Cortez critter. Or Fred could have followed the big misty river inland towards Idaho, a Sand Point gull. Or he could have followed the mountain ridges south to the Great Salt Lake and dined on locusts as did his famous ancestors 150 years ago. Fred may have followed a ship across the Pacific, flying and soaring on the wave of air thrown up by the ship as it moved westward at 20 knots. Fred may have slept on the ship's decks at night and risen early for tossed food scraps and another day's flight.

Or Fred may have lived his entire life locally here on the coast, begging french fries in parking lots and eating stale bread crusts and carmel flavored popcorn. He could have been one of the few lucky gulls who captured someone's fancy and was fed really good healthy food every day, given clean fresh water to drink and may live to raise 20 or 30 gull chicks in his long life.

Fred may have a life mate out there that he sees everyday, someone special that he chose to share his life with. A Mrs. Fred, also about 30, and chances are that they have been together since they were teenagers.

But for all of the possibilities of Fred's life and loves, for all the miles he has flown and the extraordinary sights he has undoubtedly seen, it's his eyes that speak the loudest.

Gulls are very much like people. If raised in an intensely competitive environment, they will kick and bite and write poorly-written hate mail with lousy grammar for the smallest of reasons, and if raised in an appreciative, please-and-thank-you respectful environment, they will become gentle, introspective, peaceful creatures capable of great things and incapable of war.

Fred was released to the wild a number of weeks ago, but he showed up here at the center recently, healthy and able to fly, but apparently seeking our company. He flew in, walked up to our door and then just hung around. He asked for a few fish and seemed content to stick around, so we feed him the same as we do some of our other local birds and we have adopted him as he has us. He's a real character and we have a terrific new friend named Fred.

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• Craig Sparks is director of NAWA, a filmmaker, freelance writer and wildlife rehabilitator.

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