Photo by Cleve Nash.
This is the second in a series of tales about the “famous and not-so-famous birds of Morro Rock
The chimney is the home of “Heathcliff and Gertrude.”* It is a free-standing spire about 60 feet in height with many holes and crevices. It has one large dominant hole with two vertical ridges at the back giving the appearance of a throat with a smaller hole underneath. It is separate from the main rock by about five feet. Every year the large hole is occupied by a pair of Western Gulls at nesting time. You just kind of took them for granted; they were a fixture.
About four years ago, the female peregrine took an interest in the chimney and would fly by the face of the hole. That year, the falcon had three young just out of the nest. The gulls had three downy chicks in the large hole on the chimney. The male falcon would land on top of the chimney frequently with prey to pluck and then deliver to the young. Then one day I no longer took the gulls for granted; they got my full attention. When the female falcon swooped in and grabbed one of the chicks and flew over to one of her young not far away and proceeded to open up the chest cavity for the chick. Within minutes she came back and took a second chick, but not without the parent gull giving chase. She killed the young gull on the wing by severing the neck behind the head and gave it to her second chick. She returned one more time and landed in the small hole beneath the larger nest site hole. When the adult gull flew from the nest to see where she went, the falcon jumped up and grabbed the third gull chick and took it to a perch alive. I watched the falcon with the chick in her talons through my spotting scope for three or four minutes. The young gull sat there looking around in the falcon’s talons. The falcon was looking around for her third chick. She spotted it on a distant dune a half mile away. Then she proceeded to bend down and dispatch the gull, then flew it out to her young on the dune. No one occupied the chimney hole this year, but I am sure in the future there will be another “Heathcliff and Gertrude.”
Happy trails, Bob
* Heathcliff and Gertrude – Some of you will remember the “Red Skelton Show” of the 60s and 70s and his skit of the two seagulls “Heathcliff and Gertrude.”