A few days ago, I was walking on Pope’s Island near the marina, seeing if any of the recreational boats had been taken out of the water yet. I happened to be watching as an adult Herring Gull suddenly swooped down and landed on the water right next to the rocks that make up the shore of the island. The gull stuck its head down in the water, balanced itself with a flurry of its wings, and came up with something in its bill.
The gull flew right in front of me, and landed in the marina’s parking lot about a hundred feet from where I was standing. It had a fair-sized crab, and it appeared that the crab was still moving. The gull lifted up its head, dropped the crab on the pavement, and quickly picked it up again. As far as I could tell, that drop was the coup de grace, and the crab no longer moved after that.
The gull shook its head with the crab in its bill, put the crab down, turned its head on the side, and pecked at the joint between the upper and lower shells. I walked a little closer as it repeated this maneuver several times. By now, it was pulling little bits of flesh out of the crab and gulping them down.
A second gull flew over, gliding in and landing a safe distance away, and watching the first gull eat. A third gull flew over to watch as well. But the first gull was very adept at eating the crab, and the other two gulls quickly gave up and flew away, either to search for food on their own or to find a clumsy gull from whom they could steal food.
Then a first-year gull flew over, awkward, with its drab brown plumage, and landed fairly close to the adult Herring Gull. It landed clumsily, hunched its shoulders, and gave the keening cry that baby Herring Gulls give when they’re in the nest asking for food from their parents. The adult gull shook the crab very hard a couple of times, and a couple of the crab’s legs flew off. The adult let the first-year gull steal one of the crab legs, which it quickly swallowed whole.
Pretty soon, it looked to me as though the adult had finished all the meat in the crab shell, so I ran over and chased the two gulls away to see what kind of crab it had been. All that was left was the top shell of a Green Crab (Carcinus maenas); its shell measured nearly six inches from point to point.
How wonderful to live by the ocean and see this, what must be an ordinary event for gulls and crabs alike.
You thought that gull was a crab eating expert? You need to come down to Maryland – we know how to cook and eat crabs. ;-)
Actually, in all seriousness, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a crab feast. I really do miss getting elbow deep in Old Bay, small stinging cuts from the broken pieces of shell, and the clank of beer bottles all around. It’s one of the things I miss most about my childhood… Thank you for reminding me of that. :-)
You are such a nerd, Dan. We love you.
Jean — Not to dispel the illusion, but mostly the gulls around here seem to eat garbage and trash.
John — Actually, the gull looked pretty doggoned awkward eating that crab.
Dani — “Nerd” is a high compliment in my book. Love ya back.