Saturday, December 6, 2014

Down Goes the Octopus: Western Gull Predation

Western Gull Consuming an Octopus at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, CA
I had never thought of gulls as predators until I saw a Western Gull preying on a live octopus over Thanksgiving weekend in Orange County, California. The gull literally stalked its prey by cruising over shallow water at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, California. It located, captured, and then moved a live octopus from the water to the nearby shoreline. That is when I realized what the gull was actually doing and thought, "Holy mackerel!  I've got to capture this on video!" I had no idea how long the process might last, but it felt like I was watching a rare moment unfold so I prepared to sit back and enjoy the show. Fortunately, I had no time constraints because my wife was enjoying a shopping day with her sister. I didn't have a tripod so I sat on the bank across the water from the gull and used my knees the best I could to hold my lens still while fully zoomed to 400mms. I believe it was about forty minutes from start to finish and it was worth every minute.

Two local bird watchers walked by as I was capturing the video and let me know that some locals will spend most of their day trying to see what I was witnessing. Apparently, this gull, and probably others like it, have been regularly observed preying on small water creatures such as octopuses and stingrays.

I learned a number of things from this experience:

  1. Scavengers can also be predators.
  2. Birds are smart about how they obtain and consume their food.
  3. There are three acceptable forms for the plural form of octopus--octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. Octopuses is the correct standard English form given in the 1700s. About that same time grammarians wanted to standardize irregular English words to be more like Latin. Enter the form octopi. Octopus is actually of Greek origin. That is where we get the plural form of octopodes.
  4. Octopi have four sets of arms. They have neither tentacles nor legs technically speaking. 
  5. Apparently it is not necessary to wait thirty minutes after eating octopodes before going swimming. This gull swam immediately after eating with no ill side effects.
Here's a short video (three minutes) I created to document the process and share the experience with others. It is best viewed when set to 1080p HD. You can adjust that setting by clicking on the small settings (cog wheel) icon in the bottom, right-hand corner of the YouTube screen when it loads. You may want to pause then restart the video to ensure your are viewing with HD resolution. Enjoy!

I'll finish this post with an image that was captured about two gulps before the gull finished off the octopus. The gull and octopus experience was just one more to add to the long list of experiences that fuel my love for birds and nature and the places they meet. 

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