Last week I posted a picture of a bird that was sitting on a dirt path near the Bow River in Fish Creek Park (see post). The bird didn’t move even as we approached to within a few feet.
It was a juvenile Ring-billed Gull, and clearly there was something wrong with it. It was either sick or injured. Gus Yaki, who was leading the outing, picked the gull up to examine it.
The gull hardly reacted. Needless to say, you would not be able to pick up a healthy bird in this way. Gus said that there was no obvious injury, but the bird was so thin that he could feel the bones in its breast, where the large flight muscles should have been. It would not be able to fly. Clearly it was unable to feed, had been starving for quite a while, and was near death.
Gus took the opportunity to explain the cruel facts of breeding bird biology: for a typical species, only half of all eggs laid will hatch; of the nestlings that do hatch, only half survive the first month; of the remainder, only half will live to one year of age. On average, a stable population requires that a breeding pair of adults must manage to raise two offspring to breeding age over their entire lifetime, so that the offspring replace the parents. If the number surviving to breed was usually higher, the population would explode, and if lower, it would crash. This means that the majority of eggs and young birds fall victim to predators, disease, or other hazards.
Gus returned the bird to the sunny spot on the path where we found it, and we left it to its fate.
No one suggested we try to save the bird, but later I wondered if any of the local wildlife rescue organizations would have taken in a common bird like a Ring-billed Gull, especially one in such poor shape. I’ll address that in my next post.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre