Last week, I was walking up William Street towards the church when I saw two Herring gulls standing together in the bright morning sun, right in the middle of Achusnet Avenue. The one was an adult gull, and the other a brownish first year gull. The first year gull had hunched itself down and was trying to peck at the red gonys spot on the bottom of the adult’s bill, all the while making a high-pitched call note. The adult, its bright gray and white plumage looking quite dapper in comparison with the dirty brown of the younger bird, had its head pulled back, dodging and keeping its bill out of reach of the young gull.

We are told that young Herring gulls on the nest will peck at the red gonys spot, stimulating the adult to regurgitate food for them. At this point in the year, the young gulls should be able to forage for themselves, but here was this gull engaging in what seems to be immature behavior. The two gulls were oblivious to the car rumbling along the paving stones towards them, the young gull still trying to hit that red spot, the older gull moving its beak out of the way but not flying away either. The car came to a complete stop a foot from the young gull. The adult immediately flew away, and the young gull hesitated for just a moment, and then fled.

Gulls live their own lives in this city, and seem to pay little attention to human beings. The roof tops of the tall downtown buildings are their domains. You can hear them calling ten stories up, you can see them wheeling around, settling in, gathering in little groups at the edges of the building roofs. The Elm Street parking garage is never full, and the fifth and top level, open to the sky, is littered with shell fragments where gulls have dropped shellfish to crack them open. The gulls swoop down into the streets to rifle through garbage cans, or to pull open particularly fragrant garbage bags on trash collection days. From a gull’s point of view, human beings must seem to be little more than annoyances who sometimes come along to drive them away from garbage cans, or from pecking at the red spot on an adult’s bill. If all the humans went away, the gulls would miss the garbage we produce, but aside from that I doubt they’d notice we were gone.