The other day while birding around Jamaica Bay, I spotted a Laughing gull chasing a Great egret in the sky. At first glance you might think that gulls and egrets don’t get along, but as usual the situation was a bit more complex.
Watching this pair of birds resolve their differences was similar to watching a pair of children struggle over who owns what toy or the last chocolate chip cookie. A lot of bluster, bawling, and bullying.
In this the case, the birds were not conflicted about toys or cookies, but territory. The theme song for this story could have been the old Police song, “Don’t stand so close to me.”
Most likely the egret got too close to the nesting territory of the Laughing gull. Even though this gull is not large in physical size, it can become aggressive and harasses other wildlife, especially if something is threatening nest or young.
Even though the egret was most likely looking or a tasty fishy meal near the water’s edge, not gull eggs, the tall white bird was getting too close for comfort for the Laughing gull. Birds will often try to drive potential predators away from the airspace above or near their nesting territories.
In this case, the gull was pursuing and harassing the poor egret above and behind, out of reach of beak or claw. It was flying fast, matching the speed of the intruder. Eventually, the egret and the gull had enough. Both went their separate ways. A combative sight only to be seen when animals are breeding.
An outbreak of this animal “temper tantrum” might teach the Great egret to choose another location to forage for fish next time. Otherwise, is it possible to give both birds a time out?