National Geographic : 1925 Jun
BLACK-HEADED GULLS IN LONDON By A. H. HALL With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author T HE winter of 1894-95 was ex ceptionally severe in London, and some black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus), driven to the haunts of man by the difficulty in obtaining food else where, visited the Thames. The inhabitants treated the birds kindly and fed them liberally, and in succeeding winters the visitors came back in increasing numbers. In the early years of this century it was quite the vogue to go down to West minster Bridge, the Embankment, and London Bridge, and purchase twopenny bags of sprats from itinerant venders, who did a flourishing business on fine days. The birds exhibited remarkable aptitude in catching the small fish in mid air, and also evinced amazing audacity. I have even seen a man catch one of the gulls by the legs as it hovered, ready to take a sprat held in the fingers. The gulls gradually increased in num bers, and not only frequented the Thames, where they are now to be found as far west as Windsor, but also invaded the ponds and open waters of the London parks. Flocks were to be seen in St. James Park, the Round Pond at Kensing ton, and elsewhere. BIRDS NEGLECTED DURING TIHE WAR During the World War the birds were somewhat neglected, but still continued to obtain a better living on the Thames than in wilder districts, though the ponds dur ing this period were drained of water because they provided excellent land marks, which enabled hostile aircraft definitely to determine their positions. After the war these sheets of water were again restored, and the birds re turned in great numbers. The workers in the city offices make a practice of keep ing scraps and feeding the gulls at the luncheon hour, so that extraordinarily large flocks now succeed in obtaining an easy livelihood from October to March. The gulls are so quick and bold that the ducks on the ornamental waters of the parks stand a poor chance of getting any of the doles provided by the strollers. As a study in problems of flight, these birds on the wing are of unusual interest. Their remarkable control and the way several individuals will dash without a collision for the same morsel of food are sources of constant amusement and com ment. GULLS SIOW PARTIALITY FOR CII:IISI; There are no supplies of sprats now readily available, and though, like all gulls, these birds are practically omnivo rous, and eat with avidity the stale bread which is usually supplied, they show a marked partiality for cheese, being quite as eager for this as for fish. Even when the gulls are feeding regu larly, taking pieces of bread from the hand, a newcomer has only to appear with some lumps of cheese and the diners im mediately desert their cereal repast and literally besiege the dispenser of their favorite morsels. The birds vary greatly in boldness. Those which come first to the bait are attended by numbers of others, which flutter a few feet off and scream their dis appointment at not getting the food also. It is very noticeable what a difference a drop in temperature of a few degrees will make. One mild day will see the gulls greedy, but somewhat discreet; the next day, with a lower temperature, they will be absolutely ravenous, and I have on such occasions held lumps of cheese close to my face, when the gulls in taking the bait would fly near enough to brush my cheeks with their wings. Hold out a piece of cheese in a small tin box, and, while great interest will he shown and much screaming will go on overhead, not one gull will venture to take a bite. To photograph these birds in flight is entertaining, but very difficult. The fast est exposure is necessary, and when too many gulls come into the field of view, the picture is usually spoiled by confusion of detail. It is worthy of note in the accompany ing illustrations, pages 665 to 672, that many of the postures are very different from the conventional attitudes depicted by artists.