Monday, October 04, 2010

The mystery of the yawning gull

A long log reached from above the high tide line on the White Rock beach, and far into the water. Gulls came and went on the wet end; I sat on the dry end, with Laurie beside me on another log.

Four of the gulls stayed, but they bunched up down at the far end.

Tallying them up: 4 brown heads, 3 brown gulls, one white and grey. 3 black bills, one yellow bill with a black spot. Pinkish legs, as far as I can see. (This is important, really.)

Bills: black, black, yellow, black (not visible, but trust me; it's black).

And then one yawned. First, I was surprised by how far he opened his beak. The bottom half is almost vertical, as if it were about to fall off.

But what is that red thing, just behind the beak? Here, I'll zoom in:

Only 3 heads are visible, but there were still 4 tails; all 4 gulls are there. But the red bit is between the second and the third gull. I thought it just might be a foot (up there?), but it's too red.

Or is it? Is that final foot red, or brown?

What do you think?


  1. I think it's his tongue. The lower mandible is like our lower jaw, two solid outer ribs with softer flesh between them (that's what the pelican's pouch is modified from), and with the sun shining through it it's glowing. And then he's curling his tongue up as he yawns. It's somewhat shocking how wide his mouth opens!

  2. ! That is one of the freakiest things I've seen. WOW. Who knew? The closest (tho much less mysterious) thing I've seen is a western gull with its mouth WIDE open 'cause it'd HALF swallowed a seastar, but that seastar was NOT going down the rest of the way without a fight. The gull just stood there, looking befuddled, with his mouth WIDE open, CRAMMED full of sticky seastar.

  3. I think you're right about the tongue. Looking at it again, I can see the pink showing through the feathers, too.

    Shocking, yes.

  4. Seabrooke may have something there, but if it is the tongue, why is it to the right and below the lower jaw?

    My guess would have been the foot, raised to scratch, but I can't see enough of the lower half to tell, and it would seem that the posture should change if (s)he was reaching that high up.

    It just looks wrong for both of those answers. Could it be some half regurgitated morsel of food?

  5. no idea but definitely a mystery

  6. Clare - I think you're viewing the jaw as simply the dark bit of mandible in between the two bits of pink, but the bird's got its head turned away, so we're seeing the lower mandible from below. A bird's lower jaw is made of two outer pieces, like ours is, with a soft fleshy bit in the middle, also like ours. Because of the bird's turned head, the dark bit of mandible is really only the left side of the jaw. The bit of pink on the right is the soft fleshy bit in between the two jawbones, and because the sun is shining from the other side of the bird, it's illuminating the thin membrane.

  7. It makes sense now, thanks to Seabrooke's last comment. I can see how the beak is in three parts, of which I only see two. Then the visible tongue is really one part, seen through the skin, and the end, the second part, is out beyond the beak.


If your comment is on a post older than a week, it will be held for moderation. Sorry about that, but spammers seem to love old posts!

Also, I have word verification on, because I found out that not only do I get spam without it, but it gets passed on to anyone commenting in that thread. Not cool!