Don't pick on the seagulls or feed them

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

There is nothing better than spending a relaxing day on the beach, reading a book and soaking up the sun.
When I am picking my beach spot, I always have a strategy—stay far away from other people. I don’t want to invade their space and I don’t won’t to be bothered with their sometimes loud radios and incessant talking. Mostly I don’t want to sit next to a group of tourists who are going to feed the seagulls. (Actually the proper name is gulls, but I have always called them seagulls.)

Once one seagull is given a treat, they send out the battle cry alerting every seagull in a five-mile radius. It is a mere matter of minutes before every seagull on the beach strand is hovering above the person throwing food in the air. They converge and swarm. They squawk as they hover.

The worst part about feeding the gulls is what goes in must come out. And it seems hundreds of people each year haven’t figured this fact out. According to a quick Google search on the habits of gulls this in and out process happens every twenty minutes, thus giving the gulls ample ammunition to deposit their recycled lunch on unsuspecting beachgoers.

I have been the receiving target on more than one occasion and it typically happens right after someone nearby decides to start a feeding frenzy. Every time I go to the beach, it amazes me to watch the confused gull feeder, trying to figure out how to make all the gulls go away when the food is gone. Or how to make their child stop crying because he/she is scared of the birds’ aggressiveness.

But as much as seagulls have pestered me, I still enjoy watching them fly over the water, sleep in the sand on one leg and communicate with other gulls. I would never intentionally hurt a seagull. And if I found one injured I would have to figure out a way to get it help.

On Sunday as I sat absorbing copious amounts of Vitamin D on Ocean Isle, I was distracted from my book by the squawking of a seagull. I knew instantly from the sound that it was a gull, but I detected something in its squawk I had never heard before—pain.

I wasn’t sure I heard right, but as I saw the bird fly a little out of sorts I knew something was up.

And then I heard it again. I turned to look towards the water. I saw a group of about 10 teenagers playing in the water. They were engaged in a sand throwing fight. The only time they stopped flinging handfuls of wet sand at one another was to watch one of the young men chuck a compacted sand bullet at a passing gull.

Each time it made contact, the horrendous squawk came from the startled bird that expected to be thrown food. At first other gulls began flocking to the area to see if they too could get an afternoon snack. Instead they became targets.

Just as I put two and two together and rose from my state of utter relaxation in my beach chair to address the situation, a young girl who was a part of the group pulled the guilty boy aside.

It was apparent she was telling him to stop. They glanced in my direction a time or two as I watched. I stood there hoping she had some influence over this kid. I wasn’t sure I was ready to play the role of regulator.

The talking to seemed to work, at least for a few moments until he launched a fistful of sand in my direction. I was happy to discover he had probably never played baseball in high school.

I thought about confronting the obviously demented young man and his friends again but opted to just keep an eye on them. As long as he didn’t throw it at another seagull, I didn’t really care. After all I knew his throwing arm wasn’t a danger to me.

As I watched, I thought back to my high school years. Yes, I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and having a good time. And I am sure there were even times onlookers wished we would quiet down or move on, but we never intentionally set out to harm anything.

As I reflected, I realized what a different world high school students today must endure. How did the world change so much in 15 years?

I rethought the sand incident, if the worst thing those teens were going to do while they were on vacation was to throw sand rockets at seagulls, I guess in the grand scheme of things they are all right. But next time I hope they pick on something more their own size, not a innocent seagull.

And please don’t feed the seagulls when I am sitting nearby!