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What’s Wrong With a Stuffed Gull

Dear Bird Folks,

I was listening to the radio today, probably NPR, when they started telling a story about a stuffed seagull. They were saying something about a restaurant being in trouble for having a mounted gull on display. It seemed the bird had been in the family for years, but for some reason the officials told them that having the bird was against the law. I know lots of places that display stuffed birds and no one cares. What’s so special about this gull?

-Matt, Quincy, MA
p.s. I’m sorry for being vague on the exact details, but I missed part of the discussion.


Don’t apologize Matt,

You don’t have to apologize to me for being “vague.” I’m vague in just about everything I do. Well, maybe I’m not vague about everything, but most things. Okay, perhaps it’s not most things, it’s just a few things, and that all depends on the day, and possibly not even then. Vague is good. It’s something I picked up from one of our Massachusetts senators, at least I think he was from Massachusetts, maybe not.

Here’s a story that might help shed some light on your gull question. I think I’ve told this story before, but I figure if Stallone can tell that same Rocky story over and over, I should be able to tell this story a second time. Years ago somebody donated, to our shop, a wonderful collection of old bird nests. Each nest was labeled as to which species of bird made the nest and some of the nests even had appropriate eggs in them. We put the collection in a lighted display case and it really gave our money-grubbing retail shop a touch of class.

The nest display was such a showpiece that even little kids, in between getting the merchadise all sticky, would stop and check it out. But all the fun ended the day some guy walked in wearing a well starched uniform. This guy was serious. The only thing that was stiffer than his uniform was his face. He asked me where the nest display came from. I quickly went to vague mode. After two minutes of my double talk Mr. Uniform said, “I’ll be back tomorrow and those nests had better be gone.” The nests were gone within the hour.

At first I was annoyed, but looking back I realize that the G-man was absolutely right. I should have never accepted those nests. I had no idea where they came from. I wanted to believe that they came from some long-time ornithologist who carefully collected abandoned nests as part of his research. But for all I knew the guy didn’t care about birds at all. He may have stolen abandoned or even active nests for the sole purpose of adding to his collection. I should have known better. And the worst part was my streak of going thirty years without making a mistake was over too.

We have all read about the good old days when gulls, terns and other birds were slaughtered by the millions for food, decorations or to display. Thankfully the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 put an end to most of that and now nobody is allowed to possess any native bird nests, eggs, feathers or birds themselves, whether they be dead or alive. The law makes it clear that birds and their parts aren’t to be used for showpieces, art work, jewelry, good luck charms, dusting or for fan dancing. Although, I have to admit I’m a bit sad about that last one.

Of course, there are exceptions to every law. Native Americans are allowed to use certain feathers as part of their culture. Licensed hunters are still allowed to kill and eat or display game birds. Educators and researchers are allowed to use stuffed birds and bird parts for their work, as long as they obtain the necessary permits. And, even though it’s technically illegal, I don’t think many people are doing hard time in Leavenworth just for picking up the occasional feather or two on the beach.

I’m sure the people who own the gull-in-question didn’t run out and kill it just to have a mascot in their restaurant. It may have been a family heirloom or the bird may have walked in and dropped dead from a heart attack after eating too many French fries. Where it came from isn’t important. The important thing is that it’s a protected species. Without the proper permits they aren’t allowed to have it.

Here’s the part that I think is odd, Matt. Why would anyone want, of all birds, a gull to be part of the ambience of their restaurant? Don’t get me wrong, I like gulls. But when I think of gulls, I usually don’t think of gourmet food. If I was selling dumpsters, sure, a gull would be perfect, but I don’t see a dead gull adding a lot to the image of a restaurant. But that could just be me.