Species 100! (with apologies to Cynthia)

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Ring-billed Gull, June 24, 2016.
Ring-billed Gull, June 24, 2016.

Last week, Safe Wings Ottawa hit a major milestone in our tally of bird species killed or injured by window collisions.

Call it coincidence, symmetry or a weird twist of fate, but it’s worth noting that no. 100 was a Ring-billed Gull seen colliding at one of the downtown buildings most popular with scavengers of this very same species. 

This was not the first Ring-billed Gull reported to Safe Wings, but it was the first one we could say with confidence was a window strike victim. 

It was found and collected by maintenance staff at Minto Place. When I asked Cynthia to pick it up, I fully expected she would report that it showed signs of a car collision, disease or some other cause of death. Why, after all, would our most prolific scavenger and predator of bird-collision victims manage to die from a collision of its own?

We don’t really know, but we can say with almost absolute certainty that it’s the same bird Cynthia saw repeatedly crashing into Centennial Towers, the building across the street, just the night before. It was still alive when she saw it, but now this. Unlike every other dead Ring-billed Gull we have found, it was fresh, fat, healthy looking, clean and perfectly intact except for signs of head trauma. The timing, combined with the lack of any other apparent cause of death, meant we would record this as out first ever collided gull.

It must be said that Cynthia is a bit conflicted about this particular victim. Any Safe Wings volunteer would be saddened by the needless death of a bird of any kind, but Ring-billed Gulls are, at the same time, our nemesis. They patrol the same buildings we do, looking for an easy meal, and they often get to window strike victims before we can.

It’s hard to describe the heart-wrenching frustration we feel when we come around the corner just in time to see a gull snatch a bird off the sidewalk and swallow it whole, or fly away with its prize. What kind of bird was it? Was it was still alive or already dead? Could we have saved it had we arrived five seconds sooner? Yes, gulls have to eat, but dining on window strike victims is not exactly part of the natural circle of life.

I have often heard Cynthia, an affirmed animal lover, curse these loathsome larids, even threatening to punch them in the face! And yet, she was visibly unhappy that this poor fellow had to die the way it did.

RIP, Ring-billed Gull.

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