Monday, September 29, 2014
It's kind of fun to watch gulls terrorize touristas. I saw one swoop down off the roof of the Portland Company lobster shack a couple of summers ago and take a lobster roll right out of someone's mouth. I saw another one scoff a sandwich from a beach blanket at Popham when the poor sunbather wasn't looking.
I don't remember gulls being this big a nuisance, but then I was a nuisance too and wouldn't have noticed anything out of the ordinary. I decided to read up about them to see if there was something in their history.
In the beginning there was peaceful coexistence...
Native Americans camped on Maine's offshore islands in the summer and fished. Although they hunted seabirds and their eggs, harvesting was limited to certain islands, and hunting to one colony once every three years. They did this successfully for 4000 years.
...and then everything went to crap.
When the Europeans began settling the islands in the 1600s, they farmed, hunted the birds and collected their eggs. They also raised sheep and hogs which disturbed nesting seabirds and trampled habitat.
Fashion trumps birds...
In the late 1800s, women's feathered hats became fashionable. Egrets, herons, and terns were especially popular. At the start of the 20th Century, most seabirds in the Gulf of Maine were on the brink of extinction.
...and then cars become fashionable.
The passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 protected migratory birds, their nests, and their eggs. When trains and automobiles replaced boats as preferred forms of transportation, people relocated to the mainland, easing the pressure on seabird habitat. Bird populations rebounded, reaching a high of almost 16,000 pairs along the Maine coast in 1940.
But in the end, everything gets trashed again.
During the mid-1900s however, the spread of open landfills along the coast and an increase in fishery waste provided easy pickings for herring and great black-backed gulls. It's these artificial food sources that have led to an explosion in gull populations.
So while they are a nuisance and pitiful-looking clowns on foot when food is about, it's really our own fault. And though I haven't changed my mind about them being a major nuisance, I still think they are beautiful to watch when they fly - brilliant against the sun.
Gulls • 8" x 8" acrylic framed to 12" x 12" • $200