Russians and Seagulls (August 22, 2013)

[Part 9 of 14.   Solovki 2013]

On any boat ride I took to and from Solovki, I was lucky to witness (again) the Russian love of feeding seagulls.

As soon as the boat left the dock, and the horn blew to announce our departure, the seagulls appeared flying alongside the boat.   Pavlov would have been proud.   Two ferries a day over months and years had trained these birds well to respond to the particular growl of the ferry motor and the piercing of the horn.

And it was a great reminder that humans affect the flora and the fauna around them.   The whole pattern of nourishment for the seagulls (from the food they ate, to the timing, to the manner in which food was obtained) has been entirely transformed.

As the birds came swooping in again and again, I was bemused to think of the chain of events that made possible this feeding of the birds:   the fact that some farmer somewhere further south had worked to grow the grain, which was then transported to be made into bread, transported again north to this region, and sold in stores to be handed off by humans to the eager seagulls.   I wondered what the farmer would think if he knew his efforts and his grain were making the birds around Solovki fat.

And I wondered to myself what the attraction was.   I guess I’d thrown bread to the ducks at the park as a kid—and my boys loved doing the same thing when they were small—and there was something exhilarating about wild animals responding to your food and eating out of your hand.

Or perhaps, it was the fun of seeing an animal do something it wasn’t really supposed to do.   I remember years ago watching sadly as a caged bear at a roadside stand on the highway north from Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) was offered a plastic bottle of Fanta by an excited little boy.   The bear could unscrew the cap and then chug the soda without difficulty.   And the bear drank soda after soda after soda as a roadside attraction.   Kept the stand in business, I think, and the passing motorists happy.   But, I’d have hated to see the bear’s dental bills.

 

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