Survival Strategies – Or “Who are you calling Bird-Brained?”

By Bernie Bell

I was walking along by the harbour, in Stromness, when I noticed a Seagull, cruising, quite high, in across the water, with something in its beak.  It then dropped what turned out to be a crab, not into the water, but, with some precision, on the top of the harbour wall, where it landed with a CRACK!

The gull then landed next to the crab, flipped it over, and commenced to peck away at the exposed ‘meat’.  It was so engrossed in its undressed crab, that it didn’t notice me, until I got quite close to it, but then, it became aware of my presence, and froze.  A moment of indecision, whether to feed, or flee?  So, I backed away, slowly, and it continued to feast on the remains of the crab.

I took a photo, from a bit of a distance away, then left the gull in peace, to feast.

gull B Bell

And I thought – that bird knew what it was doing – had a plan. There are people who wouldn’t have worked that out.

Then, there are the local Hoodies – crows, that is. Just down the road from us, one of the telegraph poles has a Transformer box on top of it.  When we first moved here, our neighbours told us that a pair of Hoodies used to build their nest on top of the Transformer box. The problem was, they used bits of barbed wire, picked up from the nearby fields. This would then cause a ‘short’ in the transmission, and the ’lecci would go off!  This happened every year, at nesting time.  Eventually, the Hydro people came out and rigged up something on the Transformer box, to stop crows building their nests there.  I thought – how hard can you get?  Orkney crows, build their nests out of barbed wire!

There are still a pair of Hoodies in the area. If I’m late putting out the bird food in our garden, they land on the fence posts, and caw at me!  How do they know the time?  Probably how we used to know the time, before we lost our senses – by the look and feel of what’s happening around them.

I don’t know where they nest now, but, each year they have a brood, of either one or two chicks, and each year, for a time, we have three or four Hoodies in the garden, instead of two.  Then, once the young ones can fend for themselves, they get kicked out.  Not a bad idea.

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3 replies »

  1. Interesting post! Hooded Crows and gulls also also predate Blue Mussels by dropping the shells on to hard substrates so that they break. The crows seem to have mastered this better. What’s
    even more fascinating is that some will cache surplus mussels for times when they are not available such as high Spring tides. Its a learned behaviour which young crows pick up from adults.

  2. Thank you, Eoin. Appreciation, is always …appreciated!

    Dropping things onto hard surfaces to break them, is wonder-full enough – stashing things away for leaner times – I think – goes a step further. I used to watch Jays, burying peanuts from the bird feeder, in our veg patch in Suffolk. I don’t know if they always remembered where they’d put them, but the idea was there.

  3. Yesterday, Mike took a group of students out to visit one of the salmon farms. He says it was very interesting, and he came home with another tale of the cleverness of birds. The man who was showing them round the salmon cages, told them that…..each salmon cage has one area, then another area inside it, then, over that area, is a canopy, to stop birds pinching the fish. The gulls have worked out that if enough of them stand on the canopy, it dips down into the water, so, though they still can’t get the fish, they can pinch the fishes food pellets.
    Good luck to them, I say!

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