That was what I thought the first time I saw a gull swoop down and steal a tern egg here on Petit Manan. I know that the gulls are not evil. They are just following their biological imperatives like any other animal. A protein-packed meal that can’t run or fight back? It’s a no-brainer from the gull’s point of view. They might get harassed by the terns, but for a three-and-a-half pound Greater Black Backed Gull the little four-ounce terns would need a miracle to do any serious damage. I am certain that if the terns didn’t possess a secret weapon the gulls would eat every egg on the ground and drive away the entire tern colony in short order. What allows the tern colony to remain extant in the face of such an effective predator?
The presence of the researchers on this island is what keeps these gulls in check. They know that if they try and hang out too close to the colony we won’t give them a moment’s peace until they leave. The gulls are smart, smarter than I ever gave them credit for. They know when they can get away with sneaking in a little closer to see what’s available so they can swoop down and grab an egg when the time is right. If it’s foggy or wet we will stay inside to avoid disturbing the terns, and the gulls will push in a little closer. If it’s nice and we maintain more of a presence outside they tend to keep a respectful distance.
It is unfortunate that the terns must rely on this unnatural service to make it through each season, but it is important to remember that it was also humans who created the unnaturally high numbers of gulls. While some make a comfortable living at the town dump or the parking lot of your local fast food restaurant, there are many others who would love to eat as many tern eggs as possible. The continued presence of researchers on Petit Manan ensures that these incredible animals can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.
I said before that I know the gulls aren’t evil, but they seem to be the most constant threat to the terns out here, so it is easy to see them as the villains. The gulls are just trying to make a living and raise a family, and it’s important to maintain respect for their lives, even if we are constantly at odds.