2015 – 11 Dabbling Gulls

A recent beach walk showed us something we’d never seen. Meandering along a sandy stretch that had just a gentle bit of wave action, we joined a glaucous-winged gull (the most common gull in the Salish Sea) who was walking here too. It seemed to know exactly what it was doing – looking for something right where the little waves were breaking. Soon it stopped, turned to face the incoming water and started doing a little dance. Dabble, dabble, dabble it went for about 20 seconds, turning slightly but keeping it up. As each wave came in, the gull used the rushing water to prance ever deeper into the sand – and then it looked down – and began to grab the mole crabs and other small burrowing crustaceans it had forced to the surface in the wash zone.


Mole crabs like to bury themselves right at the tide line where food is abundant. They sense when the tide is receding and slowly follow it out, a few feet at a time. This young gull had learned the crab’s ritual and realized that just a little dance, up and down, left and right – and lunch would magically appear. We watched it long enough to realize that it was nothing but normal for this smart bird, and then wondered why all the other gulls didn’t do this too. Maybe it was evolution happening right before our eyes. Most of the time, watching nature isn’t seeing a giant whale surface or an eagle dive on a salmon, but it’s the small rewards of seeing daily lives of creatures that share our world that is normal – if you’ve smart enough to see them.


Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.

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