Last week, an Appledore Gull (Band = V50) was found in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. The bird was so weak that the observer was able to walk right up and pick it up.
Coincidentally, V50 was delivered to the Tufts Wildlife Clinic, which is located down the hall from my office. V50 was banded as a chick in July 2012, and subsequently managed to get into a heap of trouble. It was male (determined on necropsy), and had a lacerated and infected right eye. Dr. Mark Pokras, the Tufts veterinarian who saw the bird, said V50 was most likely blind in that eye. The bird also had a broken femur resulting from being hit by something – a car, possibly. V50 only weighed 522 grams; when he was banded in July, before he was full-size, he weighed 740g! So, he was extremely skinny. The bird was euthanized because he could not have recovered from his injuries. Life for young gulls is tough: only about 50% of Herring Gulls survive from fledging to their first breeding attempt.
Gulls get all sorts of injuries, many of which result from their habit of hanging around people: broken wings from car strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, oiling, etc. These injuries do result in mortality in many instances. But, gulls are amazingly resilient. For instance, we’ve seen many a gull with only one foot doing well enough to successfully breed for multiple years. One such gull, affectionately named, “Peg Leg,” was first observed on Appledore by Dr. Sara Morris; Sara runs the Appledore Island Migration Banding Station. Sara noticed Peg Leg in 1990 when he still had two feet – one foot was wrapped in fishing line and going necrotic (rotting). The following year, Peg returned with only one foot. Peg continued to nest in the same location each year, and we were finally able to capture him for banding in 2006. He was last seen during the breeding season in 2008. Incidentally, we know he was a male because we observed him mating – not an easy feat (so to speak) with only one intact foot! Herring Gulls start breeding sometime between their 3rd and 5th year of life. So, Peg was at least 21 years old! Herring Gulls typically live to 15-20 years in the wild, with some reaching 30 years. So, Peg manged to do pretty well in spite of his missing foot.