The young seagull
Like most city-dwellers around these parts, I do not like seagulls very much. Their cries may be a part of the seaside charm while walking the boardwalk by the beach, but in this city seagulls take the place held by rats in many other cities' folklore. Stories abound of seagulls snatching someone's croissant (because Europe), seagulls feasting on the abandoned pizza boxes of some impromptu picnic, seagulls tearing pigeons' heads off mid-air (a grisly sight I can't unsee). Not to mention the usual divebombing poop attacks, for seagulls can, unlike pigeons, crap on your brand-new jacket as you leave your just-washed car while in mid-flight.
Yet, I came to grow I-would-not-exactly-say-fonder of seagulls during the coronavirus pandemic. During the quarantine days, I spent many lonely hours looking out of my balcony, and I came to appreciate seagulls' flight. Though I wouldn't describe it as majestic or anything of that sort, the alternatives consist of the mindless circular flight of pigeons I got to know so well from my youth, the manic teleportation of elusive thrushes, or, come spring, the chaotic jetting around of sparrows. By comparison, seagulls' flight patterns look ponderous and dignified, in a way beautiful, closer to my memories of griffons in the Northeast, or that menacing black dot of a hawk we had christened Radamel (a weak football pun) circling over our house during holidays in Andalusia.
Come late spring, things changed. Seagulls became slightly terrifying. For the pandemic took away all the tourists along with the croissants and the leftover pizza, but probably also the city Animal Services' special birdfeed laced with sterilizing medicine. Going out of home confinement, people noticed how aggressive the pigeons by the sidewalk cafés became, hungry and craving cigarettes (true story). What about their bully and sometimes predator? There is a seagull nest up on the roof above my upper-floor apartment. Stepping into the balcony became The Birds by Northwest. Seagulls would circle and dive at me, crying, launching their webbed feet in front as if they were talons, and then suddenly pitching over the roof at the last second. A threat, a game, probably both. I would go to the balcony to water my plants and see how long I could stand in place before the mock attacks became too frightening. Sometimes I would put my hands up, showing them my palms, as if seagulls could somehow understand human gestures. Once I attempted to make owl sounds, and if I did not know seagulls' ka-ka-kas were symptoms of distress I would think they were laughing at my foolishness. Not that the owl sounds made any difference. These were seagulls in despair. Probably too many eggs, then probably too many baby seagulls, and probably not enough croissants and pizza.
So today I woke up with seagull noises as usual. But then I heard a thunk! and a new, higher-pitched cry. I opened the shades and I saw this bird in the balcony, certainly larger than your average chicken, ugly brown feathers half-caked in mud, black beak and webbed feet, a head that looked fuller of hair than feathers. A bird I am certain I had seen in some painting of Hell or at least Purgatory by Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Bruegel: a young seagull. It paced back and forth in the balcony. In fact, the young seagull paced back and forth in the balcony in this very particular way, as if making an effort to hide its impatience, that actually reminded me of the way I would pace back and forth in that precise place during the quarantine, checking my watch's step counter at every end for no purpose but to beat the boredom. I looked at the seagull for a while, behind the shades as it had seemed frightened to see me. It paced back and forth, and after a long while clumsily opened its wings and tried to take flight — and couldn’t do more than jump a few centimetres. The bird seemed frustrated and resumed pacing, annoyed.
It begun to dawn on me that the seagull was not going anywhere, and I couldn't put it back in the roof, for I didn't have a big enough ladder, nor the necessary courage to grab a wild bird and take it up with me. I texted a couple of friends that know more about birds than I do. One of them advised me to give the bird some water, so I put this cup of water outside, slowly opening the door as not to startle the bird. At this point I was afraid the seagull would nevertheless manage to jump over the railing and plunge to the street. I looked online for the city Animal Services, while the young seagull settled in a routine of pacing around, crying, pecking frantically at the door, attempting to fly. The only direct phone number I found was listed as "weekdays — 10am-4pm". So, even though I felt it was a weird recommendation, I followed the website’s instructions and called the cops.
The police came, a little later. I joked at the officer who came through the door that I was aware this was a bizarre call. He was cool and told me it was the second most bizarre call of the morning, as he had just come from this place where an automobile had crashed inside a patio with no obvious way in. Okay, then, you win. He came into the apartment, looked out to the balcony, and called this private Animal Services number. "This kind of thing has been happening all the time," and left. A few minutes later, this very tanned old guy came in one of those old APE-50 cargo motorcycles. He didn't have a mask or helmet or any other kind of coronavirus protection, but looked like the kind of person who was bitten by enough dangerous animals to be vaccinated already — the kind of man you envision exterminating rats or grabbing feral dogs by their collar with those long poles. He grabbed this transportation box, the kind you take cats to the vet in, and walked the stairs, muttering. “July and August, always this shit.” The man stepped out into the balcony and swiftly grabbed the seagull. Immediately every single seagull in the vicinity took flight and started crying, an infernal cry. The young bird tried to resist by opening its wings, but nevertheless the man shoved it inside the cat box. High above, the neighbourhood's seagulls cried frantically all afternoon.
I was told the young seagull is to be taken to this Bio Park, not far on the other side of the river, where it will be fed and eventually released once it is strong enough to fly. I wish I could tell the older seagulls this: "You just fly straight south for a few kilometres, there's this place with weird birds you probably haven't seen before, there are these pink ones called flamingos for instance, and your kid will be there. And do not worry, they sometimes have hawks and owls and eagles there but those are in cages, and they only release them much farther away." But later, when I went to water the plants and play a little chicken with the seagulls, there was this extreme viciousness to their approaches, and it was not just the parents but the aunts and uncles and older cousins too letting me know that if they had talons instead of webbed feet they would tear my face off. I tried to protest "but you left your kid in the balcony to die!" but these are seagulls, they cannot pass the mirror test, let alone understand counterfactual histories. I was reminded of Werner Herzog's comments regarding chickens:
Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world.
Werner Herzog was born in Munich, Germany, where I imagine there are no seagulls. Though, in regard to the first link, I must admit that seagull hypnosis sounds way more far-fetched than chicken hypnosis.
I hope that young seagull is okay, though.