Thursday, March 1, 2012

So there's a Laughing Gull and a Seahorse…

The title sounds like a beginning to a joke, but there's no punchline here. A visit to Ft. De Soto last Spring left us thrilled with the amazing variety of birdlife that we observed. You may recall some of our encounters from here back in April 2011, including some randy Royal Terns and spunky Reddish Egrets. But there was one encounter that was especially bizarre, slightly disturbing, yet delightful all at the same time.

Laughing Gulls - "Brown chicken Brown Cow!"

On the shore of the beaches of Ft. De Soto, we ran into a typical visitor and one that we normally wouldn't get too excited about. Here we had a laughing gull, who did look dapper in his breeding plumage with the full black head and bright red bill. But it was what he was with that was most interesting. We all know gulls are quite the scavengers and seem to always be harassing people or other birds for food. So it's no surprise to see a gull munching on something. But this one Laughing Gull had something in his bill that he couldn't quite get down, and he was struggling to find a way to consume it. 

"Hmmm... How do I eat this?"

"Oops! That's not it."

I watched for a few minutes trying to figure out what this gull was playing with. Was it a fish? Was it a crab? What was this strange thing that the gull was having such a hard time with eating? Oh my gosh, it was a SEAHORSE! I've seen a number of seahorses in zoos and aquariums, but never in the wild. And I never would have expected to see one like THIS! 

"The head is a little oddly shaped..."

"Maybe if I start from the tail?"

The tough, spiny body and odd shape of this poor little seahorse made it quite difficult for the Laughing Gull to swallow. Once I alerted Nick to this strange sight, we watched the gull trying to gulp the seahorse for what seemed like about 20 to 30 minutes. The gull just kept tossing it up and trying to swallow it whole, but then he couldn't do it and would spit it back out. The gull just kept flipping around this seahorse, which was probably already dead for a while, and trying to eat it, but without success. The scene reminded me of when an acrobat in an old-timey circus tumbles another acrobat with his legs, flipping his partner back and forth landing on her hands, then her legs, and then back again. 

Laughing Gull STILL trying to eat a Seahorse

"Perhaps I can be of some assistance."

We couldn't believe our eyes that we were looking at an actual seahorse not enclosed in a glass aquarium. I'm still perplexed as to how the gull obtained the seahorse. Maybe it was already dead and floating on the water? And we couldn't believe the persistence of this gull! One other Laughing Gull did finally catch on that there was a morsel in the midst and tried to get in on the action. But he looked just as bewildered on how to eat this unwieldy thing as the first gull! 

"Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine!"

"Look what I got!"

The Laughing Gull let us get pretty close to him, just as long as we weren't going after his tasty meal. At one point, it even seemed like he was even flaunting his little treat. Or maybe he was trying to seek advice or help regarding how to eat it. 

"Ugh, you're no help. Anyone got a nutcracker?"

If I remember correctly, I believe the first Laughing Gull somehow did finally manage to just gulp the seahorse whole. Whether it stayed down after we left, who knows.


  1. Wow that's incredible. After what must have been a forceful swallow, I wonder if it became a Hiccuping Gull?
    I'm loving these great sharp images. That's a really handsome bird, and to be fair, I'm not really sure how I'd go about eating a seahorse either? Perhaps with some horse raddish...

  2. Wow! That is truly bizarre. I've never seen a wild horse (sea) either, alive or dead...great shots!

  3. All great shots. You really showed that gull's personality. I have heard of students doing seahorse research at Fort Desoto but I've never seen any there in the water. I think they are usually in deeper water around that area.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Dina! That's interesting about the student research. It would seem more likely that the seahorses are in deeper water. But somehow he made it to shore!

  4. Outstanding photos Maureen! While Laughing Gulls are quite a common sight around here, one with a Seahorse is certainly a rarity! What an amazing event to witness.

  5. Oh my! What a fabulous documentation of this strange event! I'm surprised the gull kept at it for such a long time. Quite the spiny treat that seahorse was. I have seen plenty of seahorses in aquariums before but never washed up or in the surrounding waters of the beach. Fascinating! Fantastic post!

  6. What a unique experience. You did a great job of capturing it.