Death on the rooftops

The Herring Gulls who nested on our rooftop this year hatched out two chicks, but the chicks didn’t survive for very long. There’s a skylight in our bedroom, which goes up through a part of the roof with a very shallow pitch. That’s the part of the roof where the chicks like to spend their time. We have discovered that they like to sneak in under the skylight and stand on the insect screen above our bedroom, to get out of the sun and the rain. We don’t like them to stand their, because we don’t want their droppings coming down through the screen into our bedroom, so while the chicks are running around on the rooftop we keep the skylight barely open.

But somehow they crept in anyway. Then it started raining. The skylight has a rain sensor that closes it automatically. The chicks got crushed to death. It gave Carol a nasty shock when she went in to go to bed, and there were two dead gull chicks trapped between the insect screen and the sash of the skylight.

I got the stepladder and pushed them out of the way. While I was cleaning up the gull droppings on the floor under the skylight, the two parents stood on the skylight and screamed and hollered. I’m not sure I would attribute grief to Herring Gulls — they are fairly non-social animals. Yet the disappearance of their chicks, and then the sudden appearance of the dead bodies, must have been disconcerting to them:– all their energy had been devoted to parenting, and then suddenly it became quite clear to them that they were no longer parents. They screamed and hollered for about twenty minutes, and then flew away.

Carol felt bad about the dead chicks, but I told her that the mortality rate for Herring Gulls in their first year is something like eighty percent. In the three breeding seasons that we have lived in our apartment, only one chick out of six has even survived long enough to fledge and fly away — three fell off the edge of the roof, two were crushed to death by the skylight. Even with such a high mortality rate, the population of Herring Gulls is rising in Massachusetts, so I am not tempted to feel sentimental about it.