The Sea-gull’s Tale ~ knowing when or if to intervene.
The place where I live is rich in wildlife, but where I work that
wildlife is mainly confined to a slice of nature that most people
would prefer to ignore or destroy. Rats, foxes, pigeons, the
occasional rabbit and most of all sea-gulls scurry, flap or scuttle
their way around the school, and the seagulls seem to take great
sport in splatting on cars or people.
I have great admiration for all of these loathed creatures because they survive on the fringes of our lives and in some cases, share space with us.
The gulls are getting to be very bold and aggressive, as the students
often leave food lying around and the resulting mêlée
is loud and often violent.
Right now, the juvenile gulls are in the process of fledging and fending for themselves. This is not a kindly process. The parents will often drive their young away, with rather shocking attacks. Gulls are
omnivores, devouring the dead of their own and other species.
I witnessed such an attack from my classroom the other week, where twoadults mercilessly stabbed their beaks at a youngster, ripping feathers from his head. I don’t know if the chick was theirs or not, but they wanted nothing to do with it and I feared they would kill it.
On Saturday morning, I saw it again, and intervened to prevent the
adults killing it. The bird shot me a look and scuttled away, and the
adults took to the sky circling like vultures. Returning that
evening, the coach scattered dozens of gulls, including young ones
still in their brown plumage; the ground was thick with them and the
air full of the raucous cries.
Today my boss came to find me in the staffroom, summoning me to the front because there was a sick bird. Don’t ask how I’ve ended up being the Florence Nightinggale of the animal world in the eyes of the people I work with, but it would seem that I am the one who gets called if there’s something needing to be done with a living being other than a human.
Outside, among the throngs of students (who reminded me of the gulls at that point) I was directed to a corner where a juvenile gull huddled. It was the same young gull, a wound on the side of his head. I called him closer so I could see the extent of his injuries. He came to a foot or two away and let me look before scuttling away. The wound was healing, as far as I could see. But short of somehow grabbing him and subjecting him to first aid, I could do no more. The RSPCA would do nothing as a gull is a common bird and considered vermin by many. I couldn’t catch the bird and just kill him; he had a chance of making it if he stayed away from his own kind till he grew stronger.
I stood for a minute or two, eye to eye with this wary bird and felt
sadness that I had no power to help. I gave my verdict that there was nothing to be done and the bird would probably be fine, and the kids seemed reassured by this, but I felt I had somehow failed.
You see, that one bird is special. I identified with it, poor persecuted
bastard, driven from the nest and fending for himself in a cruel and
uncaring world. I felt protective and yet totally helpless. It came
when I spoke to it, showing both intelligence and curiosity and some
There are times when you can help in a situation and there are times when any help you may give will create a worse situation, and right now, I simply do not know if I am doing the right thing in doing nothing.
I need to trust not only that my own life is unfolding as it must, but
also that the same can be said for those around me, whether they are friends, family, colleagues, strangers or even just scruffy, beat-up
juvenile seagulls. And that means learning when intervention is a
good idea and when it is not, because getting involved in something
that I am not supposed to be part of subverts not just my life but
that of others.
And yet, my instinct is that when compassion is evoked, then intervention is both right but also inevitable.