Photo by Lucy Brzoska
A yellow-legged gull stood on the pavement with a dirty sock in its bill. It returned to the gash in the rubbish bag and this time plucked out a stale piece of bread. The gull then flew to a nearby fountain to soften the hard crust in the water. Opportunists and intelligent, in the last two decades these webbed-footed seafaring birds have become adept at city living.
Gulls are well-known as scavengers, gathering at rubbish dumps in their thousands, but Barcelona’s yellow-legs have discovered another plentiful source of urban food—live pigeons. A potential victim is singled out and chased to a state of exhaustion. Watching these heart-stopping pursuits going on above us, it’s hard not to root for the pigeon, twisting and turning, exercising its flight prowess to the limit. One once took refuge in my flat: I found it perched nervously on the table by an open window, while the gull cruised outside, its piercing eye scanning the room.
A successful capture is invariably followed by a gory tug of war, as gulls fight for the spoils. Their crops are remarkably roomy and to end the squabble, a gull can gulp down a sizeable portion of pigeon, feet and all, to be digested—or regurgitated—later at leisure.
For thrusting, raw, bloody nature under our noses and aggressively blocking access to the terraces they’ve chosen to nest on, yellow-legged gulls are often feared and disliked. They have a cold stare and their powerful hooked bills, spotted with red, look cruel.
But in flight, they’re an uplifting sight, especially in the winter months when the city skies are empty of swifts. You can watch them from Montjuïc, soaring in perfect synchrony, smoothly dueting like ice-skaters. On blustery days they play games, filching a seed pod from one of the agave cactus trees, which they’ll deliberately drop before swooping down to catch it again.