Monday, October 22, 2007

Blog 017 - thinking

The first really chilly fall weather blew through our coastal New England town a few days ago. It was a good chill, the kind that makes me feel giddy and full of energy. I had an irresistible urge to pull on a sweater and go for a walk outside, and maybe afterwards have a cup of coffee and a conversation at the kitchen table.

I followed Old Dock Road to the harbor where a few boats are still waiting for one last chance to go out into the bay before being pulled out of the water for dry storage until next summer. Ducks were paddling around in the water and seagulls were waddling around on the boat ramp. It isn’t much of a ramp, just a narrow concrete driveway that slopes down into the water. On either side of the boat ramp there is wet, squishy sand where trailers get stuck if their wheels veer off the side.

Scallops were dangerously exposed on the muddy banks of the harbor because of the low tide. Seagulls love scallops.

I’ve seen the occasional seagull eat a scallop before, but this evening there were lots of seagulls eating scallops – it was a feast in progress.

Before a seagull can eat a scallop it has to open the shell, and that is what makes watching the whole thing so fascinating. It would seem that the only way a seagull could eat a scallop is if it happened to come across one that had already been opened by another animal with nimble fingers and maybe a pocketknife. But they don’t need any help at all. They have figured out a way to open the scallops all by themselves.

The birds have recognized the difference between the hardness of the concrete boat ramp and the squishy sand on either side of it. The first time I saw a seagull drop a scallop on the boat ramp I thought it was just a quirky chance event. After all, it’s just a dumb seagull, how could it know that a boat ramp would be a better place to drop a scallop than the squishy sand?

But, this evening the seagulls were dropping scallops on the boat ramp over and over until finally the shells popped open and the birds could get at the prize inside. They never dropped a scallop on the squishy sand.

The seagulls have figured out how to use the concrete to their advantage. A real biologist would probably have a different explanation for this behavior, but to me it is clear that they are thinking at a level that is higher than what I had given them credit for being able to do.

Seagulls were flying in over the water clutching a scallop in their beaks. As they approached the boat ramp they would swoop up high and circle around making sure there were no other birds nearby that could steal their cargo and then with laser guided precision they would drop the scallop on the concrete and chase it down to the ground to see if it had cracked. They repeated this process as long as it took.


We humans live in our artificial world and scarcely even acknowledge the millions of other creatures with whom we are sharing this planet and this life. It is to their detriment that we behave so arrogantly, and to ours as well.

If a seagull can figure out how to open a scallop what else might it be thinking about? Do seagulls feel giddy and full of energy on brisk fall days, like me? Because we can’t speak to them we assume they have nothing to say, and no stake in the future of this planet.

Turn off the television that is streaming nonstop garbage into your brain and go outside for a walk. If you look around you will almost certainly be amazed at what you see.

It’ll make you think.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Monte Ladner


Nigel, Staffordshire said...

Hi Monte,

Great post. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago whilst I was working away in Edinburgh in Scotland. I went out for an evening stroll near the castle in Edinburgh and on one of the pathways that wound up the side of the hill to the castle, came across some Jackdaws doing a similar thing. They were dropping snails on to the pathway to smash their shells and then eat the snail inside. You're right, its incredible what you might see if you just take a wander outside and have a look around.


SallyT said...

My dog is noticeably friskier now that the weather has cooled. She is obviously enjoying fall as much as I do. That's why we should respect all sentient beings. Who's to say that our way of viewing the word is superior to any other paradigm.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Monte, I Enjoyed the video of the the seagull. I have a new Itouch/ipod and have discovered your podcast, and have been listening to them all day. I feel inspired to get the weight off for fear of becoming ill all to soon. Thanks again for all the health info.