The Poets’ Birds ~ Gulls

Laughing Gulls taking their ease

It seems John Updike never met Mia McPherson. If he had, he might have titled his poem differently.

Five years ago, Mia — a consummate bird photographer based in Utah — took  upon herself the task of correcting just about everyone’s propensity for misnaming gulls. In a post titled “For The Love Of All That’s Birdy, There Is No Such Thing As A Seagull,” she made her point with the help of a few sign-holding gulls. As she wrote:

One of the things that make my feathers ruffle is when I see people post a bird photo and call it a “seagull,” because there is no such thing as a seagull.
Under just the Genus Larus we have Pacific gull, Belcher’s gull, Olrog’s gull, Black-tailed gull, Heermann’s gull, Mew gull, Ring-billed gull, California gull, Great black-backed gull, Kelp gull, Cape gull, Glaucous-winged gull, Western gull, Yellow-footed gull, Glaucous gull, Iceland gull, Thayer’s gull  [We said goodbye to Thayer’s gull this year not because they went extinct but because they were lumped with Iceland gulls], European herring gull, American herring gull, Caspian gull, Yellow-legged gull, East Siberian herring gull, Armenian gull, Slaty-backed gull, Lesser black-backed gull, and Heuglin’s gull.
Not included in any of their names is “seagull.”

Despite the passage of time, I’ve never forgotten Mia’s post. Most of the time, I remember to call birds in the genus ‘gulls,’ but poets — W.B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, and Allen Ginsberg among them — aren’t ornithologists, and most of them found ‘seagull’ a perfectly acceptable term.

That said, Updike’s poem “Seagulls” does begin by referring to “a gull,” just before it veers into a suggestion of gullability among humans.  Updike could be remarkably clear-eyed when it came to categorizing human foibles, and he was no less so when it came to the gulls; his descriptions of the bird are creative and on point.

Had they met, I don’t think Mia would have chastised Updike for using one of her least favorite misnomers, but she might have whispered, “By the way, John — you might consider changing your title.”

A gull, up close,
looks surprisingly stuffed.
His fluffy chest seems filled
with an inexpensive taxidermist’s material
rather lumpily inserted. The legs,
unbent, are childish crayon strokes—
too simple to be workable.
And even the feather-markings,
whose intricate symmetry is the usual glory of birds,
are in the gull slovenly,
as if God makes too many
to make them very well.
Are they intelligent?
We imagine so, because they are ugly.
The sardonic one-eyed profile, slightly cross,
the narrow, ectomorphic head, badly combed,
the wide and nervous and well-muscled rump
all suggest deskwork: shipping rates
by day, Schopenhauer
by night, and endless coffee.
At that hour on the beach
when flies begin biting in the renewed coolness
and the backsliding skin of the after-surf
reflects a pink shimmer before being blotted,
the gulls stand around in the dimpled sand
like those melancholy European crowds
that gather in cobbled public squares in the wake
of assassinations and invasions,
heads cocked to hear the latest radio reports.
It is also this hour when plump young couples
walk down to the water, bumping together,
and stand thigh-deep in the rhythmic glass.
Then they walk back toward the car,
tugging as if at a secret between them,
but which neither quite knows—
walk capricious paths through scattering gulls,
as in some mythologies
beautiful gods stroll unconcerned
among our mortal apprehensions.
                                             “Seagulls ” ~ John Updike


Comments always are welcome.

110 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds ~ Gulls

    1. That line attracted me, too. It reminded me of the inevitable end of the Christmas cookie baking process. When perfectly decorated trees and elaborate stars lose their colored sugars and piped lines of frosting, you know you overestimated your endurance.

    1. Taxonomists and ornithologists — and bird enthusiasts of various sorts — need those scientific names, but they needn’t impose them on everyone else. Avoiding common names and insisting on only the use of scientific names is a sure way to separate people (dare I say ‘the common people’?) from the pleasures of nature. I’ve been embarassed a few times by plant enthusiasts who’ve wielded genus and species like a club, and it can leave a mark.

        1. The trick is to educate, but in an enjoyable way. When I began paying attention to native plants, my general term for them all was “pretty flower.” In time, curiosity and the willingness of others to educate moved me along the road toward a little more specificity!

    1. Isn’t that just great? I was so amused by Mia’s post, with her poster-bearing gulls, that I thought it would be a good addition to the post — but it seems as though the poem’s getting short shrift. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I do.

    1. That pair were more sweet than sardonic. They’d come and sit on the dock every afternoon, next to a boat I was working on. Eventually, I had to take my camera with me and make a portrait of them. Once in a while, one would fly over the channel, pluck a shrimp from the water, and bring it back to its mate. I loved to see it.

  1. There is a similar problem, although not as egregious, when it comes to a migrating corn eating beach messing bird, the Branta canadensis aka Canada Goose. People commonly call them by Canadian Goose which is not at all correct but because of the common usage it sticks. As Updike was not an ornithologist, although he may have been a birder, he should be forgiven the transgression despite, based on his second word, the fact that he appeared to know better. By today’s standards, “you know what I meant so no biggie”, pretty much anything goes.

    1. Well, I only learned in the past year that they’re ‘Canada geese’ rather than ‘Canadian geese,’ so there’s that.

      I don’t think Updike’s use of ‘seagull’ comes close to being a transgression; the last thing I’m going to do is judge a poet for his choice of words, or judge poetry by science. I suspect his use of ‘gull’ in the first line had more to do with his preference for the sound or rhythm it created. My throwaway line about Updike changing his title if he’d met Mia was meant to be humorous — just as a good bit of humor infused her post. Of course, we all know that, like sarcasm, humor is hard online.

      1. Oh, I understood the humor and agree that she likely had a sense of humor about this too. Or at least I’d think she might not knowing her.
        Wikipedia, the authority to end all authorities, lists Canadian as an accepted alternative. And as you mentioned to Alessandra…being a stickler can ruin the enjoyment of innocent nature lovers. Nature needs all the friends it can get.

        I’ve learned to not be the grammar police and hope folks will do the same when I type a gaffe….like misuse of the Oxford comma or over and incorrect use of the ellipsis…bad Steve. Until a few years ago I thought ennui meant the little details and was suitably upbraided for the incorrect use.

        1. I wouldn’t want you to lose sleep! There are only seven native species of goose and swan here in Texas, and this site has good photos and range maps. I suppose everyone knows the Snow and Canada geese; they’re the ones who fill up places like the Katy Prairie in winter. I’ve seen the White-fronted Goose, but only a couple of times. It’s also called the ‘Speckle-belly’ or ‘Speck’ because of the pattern of its feathers on its underside.

          As far as I know, I’ve never seen the Ross’s Goose or the Cackling Goose, and I had no idea that we have two species of native swans: the Trumpeter and the Tundra. The Trumpeter Swan is our largest native bird, with a wingspan of six feet — can you imagine seeing that?

    1. Tony was quite a character, as well as being immensely accomplished. Were you in Port A when his ashes were sent to sea on the back of a turtle? I’ve never heard of a more appropriate farewell.

      I love the poem. I’ve only become aware of Updike as a poet in the past two or three years, and I’m often amazed at the concise imagery that he’s capable of.

        1. It’s wonderful that you were able to attend. To this point, all of my Port A experiences have centered around sailing and boats, but I’d love to make a return visit with plants and birds as a focus.

  2. The term “seagulls” is capable of making me froth at the mouth, exceeded only by people who describe every experience from a good cup of coffee to seeing VictorIa Falls as “cool”.

    1. Another reader mentioned the Canada geese/Canadian geese issue, and I grinned. You were the one who made me aware of the difference. I still use ‘seagull’ occasionally, but I’ve almost completely rid myself of ‘Canadian goose.’ These things take time.

      I rarely hear ‘cool’ any more, but I do sigh a little when the ubiquitous ‘awesome’ shows up.

  3. What can I say? Birders have their quirks. One is capitalizing every name under the sun that pertains to a bird. Another peculiarity is getting apoplectic claiming there’s no such thing as a seagull, a term that has been familiar to English speakers since at least as far back as 1542. As you noted, poets W.B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, and Allen Ginsberg have used the S-word. As far as I know, Chekhov’s 1895 play has always been called “The Seagull” in English. The third word in the title of Richard Bach’s 1970 novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull didn’t keep the book from becoming wildly popular. According to Google’s n-gram viewer, occurrences of gull now outnumber those of seagull by about 2 to 1, but seagull is still a common word.

    1. I’ve been reading Mia’s blog for years, and have found her one of the most approachable and easy-going birders/bird photographers I know. Although she obviously takes the whole gull/seagull business seriously, she presented her argument in a humorous way. The lesson clearly stuck, since Updike’s poem reminded me of her post from 2017.

      On the other hand, I have a feeling that Jonathan Livingston Gull would have sold significantly fewer copies than Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Bach’s title has a lilt to it. The revised title feels as though it just flew into a brick wall. Smart writers learn how to pick their words, and Updike chose the right word for his title. If Mia had the opportunity to advise a change, I’d hope Updike would have smiled, thanked her, and gone his way.

  4. Learn something new every day, especially when my day includes a trip to your blog. I am tone-deaf on what to call gulls now, having been a fan of the word seagull all of my life.

    1. Here’s my advice: keep right on calling them seagulls. If you recall from time to time that there are different species of gulls, and the one you see today might not be the same as the one you saw yesterday, that’s all to the good. After all — a seagull by any other name still flies the same!

      One of the best poems I’ve read that touches on the issue — sort of — is Billy Collins’s poem “Osprey”. If you don’t know it, I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s written for people like us.

    1. Thanks, June. Mia’s post is a good example of that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down — clearly, the humor embedded it in my mind, else I wouldn’t have remembered it when coming across Updike’s poem.

  5. No such thing as a seagull? That’s shocking and I don’t know how to process it. As for the poem, that I can understand and enjoy. But about gull nomenclature, I am almost wordless.

    1. Every field has different words for different purposes. Some words are used for scientific (or other) precision, while common words do everyday duty. I suppose everyone knows what a ‘sunflower’ is, but for a gardener who wants to plant just the right sunflower for her conditions, or the plant breeder who wants to develop a hardier species, knowing the scientific name — the genus and species — is important.

      Beyond that, it’s fun to learn about different species. I still remember the day I looked at a gull and thought, “What’s wrong with that thing? It doesn’t look at all like the seagulls I usually see.” As it turned out, I was accustomed to seeing laughing gulls, like the ones in today’s photo, but I’d come across a herring gull — a completely different species. I was beginning to see gulls (!) in a new way — though not in Updike’s entirely creative way.

  6. My favorite line is “shipping rates by day, Schopenhauer by night, endless coffee”. The subject shifts from a gull to some benighted Bartleby. Loved your gull image.

    1. Isn’t that a great line? I thought “backsliding skin of the after surf” was a good line as well, even though it took a minute or two to see in my mind’s eye what he was referring to.

      That pair of gulls tolerated me quite well. They’d come every afternoon and spend time on a dock next to a boat where I was working. Because they were sitting on a fixed dock, and I was on a floating dock, I often ended up on eye-level with them when the tide went out, and it made for a nice photo.

  7. Love the information and the poem; however, it is that stunning photo of two gulls on the dock with fog in the background that I will remember about this post.

    1. As much as I hate to admit it, that isn’t fog. It’s our murky, muddy, sluggish, and distinctly non-attractive “Clear Creek” water. Clear Creek leads from Clear Lake out to Galveston Bay, and at certain times — like after heavy rain — the bayous send their water down, and everything gets dull. But it did make for a nice background! The birds were on a fixed dock next to where I was working, and I was on a floating dock. When the tide went out, my dock went down, and the birds and I were on the same level. How could I not make a portrait?

  8. Lovely photograph of very handsome gulls. As a kid, I was brought up with calling them ‘seagulls’ – I think that’s usual over here. My cats would call them all ‘scary gulls’, because every time they hear one they dash inside!

    1. Your cats are smart. The gulls that hover around our waterfronts are loud, raucous, and ready to snatch food out of the hand or mouth of any creature that’s not wary. They don’t care if its French fries or cat food.

      We called them seagulls, too — even when they were setting up shop in parking lots, as they’re wont to do. I was curious, and found this neat site that catalogs the common British gulls. Looking at the photos, it’s easy to see one reason people like ‘seagull’ as a generic term. Sorting them out by their appearance would be a task for a specialist!

    1. I agree, completely. I’m glad that I’m finally becoming familiar with more than his essays and novels. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a decade since his death.

  9. Sea gull in my little opinion is putting all gulls into a lump category if one doesn’t know its proper name. Not everyone is a birder, so sea gull is fine with me. I suppose at one time I called a gull a sea gull but that must have been eons ago. In the spring I see gulls circling and calling as they fly overhead on their way to northern breeding grounds. I can’t remember which specie they are since I am haven’t been an active birder in a very long time. But on to the excellent photo of the pair of laughing gulls. They are beautiful sitting on the dock as they present a perfect picture of domestic bliss.

    1. Your first sentence brought a smile. When I started learning about plants, I also learned that there are ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters.’ Lumpers do just that — put everything into the fewest categories possible, while splitters keep going farther and farther down the taxonomic rabbit hole, from family to genus to species to variety to… wherever it ends. If I can confidently put a plant into its genus, that’s good enough for my purposes. When I manage to identify a species, I pat myself on the back.

      I’m sure those gulls I photographed were a mated pair. They came every day to linger on a dock next to where I was working, and one day I finally took my camera with me. I’m only sorry I didn’t have the camera on a day when one of them flew off, caught a shrimp, and brought it back to the other. Anyone who knows seagulls knows how protective — even selfish — they can be with their catch, so it was quite an unusual sight.

  10. We live in Iowa nowhere near the sea. We do have rivers and lakes. When I see one flying overhead, I often say ‘there’s a seagull’. Then I correct myself noting there is no sea here. ‘There’s a gull’ would be correct. Corrected for the wrong reason. Now I know.

      1. There’s some good basic information there, but I’ll confess I laughed at this section: “Make use of a dummy. Seagulls are not fond of bright, terrifying owl faces on masks or balloons, and some will avoid wooden owls and kites styled like hawks, among other things. To discourage seagulls from circling your house, place a few decoys in the garden or on the top of your home. This should cause them to flee very fast.”

        After spending nearly thirty-five years around people trying to deter gulls, ospreys, sparrows, herons, and egrets with fake owls, balloons, CD discs, mirrors, old unstrung cassette tape, ribbons, rubber snakes and such, I can tell you the effectiveness of any of those after a day or so is zero. Even the cool owls with the battery operated heads that keep turning one way and then the other are useless.

        The audible deterrents used by some local stores aren’t much help. In an attempt to keep the birds away from their cart area, a local store installed one that emitted a variety of recorded distress calls. Before long, it was common to see a bird perched on top of the device, preening away while the distress calls blared. Eventually, they took the devices down because their human customers complained.

    1. Down here, flocks of gulls will fly great distances to find food, and it’s common to see them in parking lots. When I lived in Salt Lake City, I was astonished to find them out at the lake. I’m sure they were different species, but given food and water, they’re likely to show up anywhere.

  11. Thanks to (Midwestern for too many years) adult daughter’s bloodcurdling scream and her own daughter’s quieter horror, I saw we’d happened upon a headless *seagull* stuffed down into rocks at the shore. I lifted him (when they weren’t looking and had stopped saying, “Shouldn’t we call someone about this?”) to get a better identifying look neck-to-toe. When I later looked up what kind of gull would be that LARGE with those markings and that foot size and shape — at our part of the Atlantic (Glaucous maybe!), I also looked up if they’re mostly feathers because this corpse wasn’t old yet it was so light to heft! That was when I’d read there was no such thing as a “seagull.” Who knew?

    1. Once I looked up the Glaucous gull on the Cornell site, I realized why I’d never heard of it. It lives far, far away from the Texas coast. I did smile at the first line of Cornell’s description: “An imposing pale gull of the arctic, Glaucous Gulls are the second biggest gull in the world.”

      It must be quite a sight. Our Herring gulls can make the Laughing gulls seem small, and the Glaucous would do the same for other gulls. I read that Glaucous gulls will prowl the rocks, looking for eggs or chicks of other species. Perhaps a different sort of hungry predator took advantage of an inattentive gull.

      1. We’d had no smart phones back then & stupidly didn’t snap camera photos of it, but I read up on them (all!) again last night, and sure enough, it still seems it was a Glaucous — but it would’ve helped a lot more to see his head! Yep, I think you’re right — he snooped for eggs or chicks in the wrong outcropping!

  12. Dear Linda
    Is it important what the correct name of a gull is? Well, for birdwatchers it is but for other people it isn’t or is it?
    All the best
    The Fab Four of Cley

    1. It’s worth remembering that Mia’s site is meant for birders and bird/nature photographers, so it makes sense that she’d be advocating for specificity akin to that embraced by biologists, ornithologists, and knowledgeable bird photographers. Some of the discussions about the issue can begin to take on the intensity of debates over the use of the Oxford comma, but there’s nothing wrong with knowing the difference between ‘seagulls’ and ‘gulls,’ just as there’s something good about feeling free to use both terms, as Updike did.

      1. Of course, we see Mia’s point.
        We followed the literary tradition of Goethe who wrote in “Faust” ‘names are sound and smoke’.
        Have a happy week
        The Fab Four of Cley
        :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. I started developing the habit by associating the common species name with ‘gull’ — laughing gull, herring gull, and so on. Little by little, I started referring to unidentified birds as gulls, even before I’d read Mia’s post. Of course, my introduction to the concept of genus and species took place through my interest in plants, and my astonished discovery that even if it grows like a sunflower and blooms as a sunflower, it might not be a sunflower.

  13. I suppose no one told Jonathan Livingston Seagull, eh? lol
    I think I may be the one who recalled my encounter with Canadian geese. What is the appropriate term for those birds?

    1. I mentioned to another reader my suspicion that Jonathan Livingston Gull would have sold many fewer copies than Johnathan Livingston Seagull. Jonathan, the Gullible Gull might work, but that would be a different story!

      It seems that ‘Canadian birders’ is a fine term, but the bird is called a ‘Canada’ goose. That still sounds odd to me, and when I’m out with friends looking for them in our winter we still call them Canadian geese, but I try to be more accurate when I’m writing.

  14. I’m with Klausbernd on this. I do like the discussion, and I’ll probably try to remember to say gull now that I’m informed. We don’t see gulls (pun intended) around here, but we do see geese. So is it Canada or Canadian geese? All I do know is I love the photograph you posted. What a sweet couple, seemingly taking it easy.

    1. Officially, it’s a Canada goose: but Canadian birders. I just mentioned to GP that I still find ‘Canada goose’ awkward, but I suppose after decades of using ‘Canadian’ as an adjective, that makes sense. I don’t worry about it unless I’m writing. I did spend about thirty seconds pondering a post titled “The Poets’ Birds ~ Canadian Goose,” but I came to my senses and decided against it!

      Those birds were, in fact, a sweet couple. They showed up nearly every day for weeks, just enjoying what seemed to be a very secure spot.

  15. When an incorrect word or phrase is used often enough, it will eventually be accepted. I looked up Seemöve in a reputable German-English dictionary and found ‘seagull’ as the correct translation. By the way, as a Canadian, I prefer the correct use of Canada goose.

    1. I’ve been thinking about this today. Down here, we have two winter visitors from the north: the Snow Goose and the Canada Goose. Everyone calls the Snow Goose by that name, but “Canadian” became the name of choice for many people.

      When I went to the Texas Parks and Wildlife site to check on their nomenclature, sure enough: they call them Canada geese. The early season opens next weekend, so I’m going to listen to my favorite fishing and hunting show on the radio, to find if hunters use ‘Canada’ among themselves. I suspect there might be a difference between the name used by hunters and outdoors professionals and “just folks.”

  16. Not sure I completely agree with all of Updike’s descriptions, but I’ll cut him a little poetic slack. Gulls are “ugly,” with “slovenly” feather-markings? Ouch, he couldn’t have been much more pointed, could he? I rather enjoy watching gulls, perhaps because they usually hang around water, and I don’t get to the beach often enough!

    1. I keep finding little amusements in the poem, and that line about ugliness and intelligence is one. It brought to mind the old grade school taunt that went, “boys never make passes at girls who wear glasses.” The assumption was that the homely (or glasses-wearing girls) were the smart ones, and the pretty blond cheerleaders were, as the saying went, ‘bubble-headed.’ The thought that the same assumptions might be made among birds made me laugh.

      Like you, I enjoy the gulls. The laughing gulls are especially fun during their mating season. They make such a ruckus, and they really can sound as though they’re laughing. If a couple of hundred of them are going at it at the same time, I always start laughing myself.

  17. Great shot of the two lovely ‘not’ gulls. I chuckled at the link to Mia’s ‘we’re not seagulls’ post–very cute. Having grown up along the coast, I sorta knew this and I don’t use the prefix ‘sea’ when I speak of these birds, but it’s so common, isn’t it? This was a fun and informative post, Linda!

    1. I enjoyed the way the ‘arms’ Mia added to her gulls were so well matched to their actual legs: the ones that Updike described as “childish crayon strokes.” Clearly, she thinks that a little anthropomorphizing in the service of science is more than acceptable.

      She’s not only a bird photographer; her section on insects contains some fine photos of various bees, butterflies, and other pollinators . She even includes the desert tarantula, which I’d prefer never to see. What I did see last week was a group of early-arriving goldfinches. It won’t be long until other migrants begin to move.

  18. This was very interesting, but I have to disagree with Updike’s characterization of gulls as “slovenly,” “sardonic,” “ectomorphic,” and “melancholy.” I don’t experience them that way at all and I think his portrayal is not flattering.

    1. I didn’t find his description particularly negative. I’ll grant you I’ve never thought of their feathers as ‘slovenly,’ but ‘ectomorphic’ seems neutral to me: probably used to emphasize the relative narrowness of their heads. As for the ‘melancholy’ crowds, that phrase referred to humans rather than gulls, although I’ll grant you that metaphor can be slippery.

      Sorry you didn’t enjoy the poem. I found it intriguing for what it says about certain human tendencies and behaviors. I thought the last lines about young couples walking
      capricious paths through scattering gulls,
      as in some mythologies
      beautiful gods stroll unconcerned
      among our mortal apprehensions

      were terrific, although the shipping clerk/Schopenhauer lines had a nice Prufrockian ring to them.

      1. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the poem. I, too, found some passages very elegant and lyrical. But I gained the impression that he didn’t care for gulls all that much and highlighted what he considers negative characteristics.
        But as we know, a poem’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. :-)

    1. I think I’m going to have to disagree. Now that you’ve got that spiffy new haircut, I don’t think you can claim ‘slovenly.’ On the other hand, I can see you and Dr. M scattering gulls when you hit the shore — unless you decide to stay on your balcony and read poetry.

  19. The poets are, by definition, practitioners of imagination and expression. Just as authors use various amounts of literary license in writing, so do the poets. As you pointed out, Mia is an outstanding photographer and birder. Her glorious website attracts an audience which is a mix of birders, photographers and those who appreciate her artistry and skilled writing.

    Since I have been called a birder (to my face a few times), when I am in the middle of a mob of birders, I try hard to call birds by their proper common names. Having said that, I am also old. Not trying to excuse myself, but I still lapse into calling a Northern Harrier by its previous moniker, “Marsh Hawk”. You and I recently discussed the taxonomic gyrations surrounding “Moorhen” and “Gallinule”. There is even the possibility I may have accidently said the word “seagull” aloud, although I probably actually said “he-gull” or “she-gull” and was simply misunderstood.

    My small opinion says let the poets be poets, the birders be birders and by all means let any child (of any age) who screams with delight “Look at that seagull!” be praised to the heavens.

    Yeah, “Jonathan Livingston Gull” just doesn’t work.

    So many things to like in Updike’s poem. My favorite, because it gives me hope:

    “Are they intelligent?
    We imagine so, because they are ugly.”

    1. After contacting Mia to let her know that her work wasn’t in vain, and that someone actually remembered that five-year-old post, I smiled at this part of her response: “You were right. I would have whispered to John, but wouldn’t have chastised him about the title of his poem.”

      Your mention of the he-gull and she-gull reminded me of my favorite bird-joke. It’s one that’s better told than written, but we have some limitations here, so let’s give this a try:

      A mother tern was quite put out with her young son. He’d been dating a she-gull, and his mother wasn’t happy about it. The young tern did his best to convince his mom of the seagull’s charms, but it wasn’t working. After one particularly heated argument, the young bird blurted out, “Just give me one good reason that I should break up with her.”
      “Here’s the best reason I know,” his mother replied. “One good tern deserves another.”

      1. LOL!
        Speaking of deserving another …

        A young birdwatcher in Germany wanted to make a positive contribution to the health of the local bird life in his coastal town. After some thought, he visited the seashore, made friends with one of the coastal birds and gave him a ride to a local sausage restaurant. That’s right, he —
        took a Tern for the Wurst.

    1. Then, you can riff on the old tongue-twister verse, with “let’s go see gulls down by the sea shore.” You even could pick up some sea shells while you’re there — if you see them, of course!

    1. I’d not thought of that, but you’re right. Every gift shop I’ve visited in our various state parks and nature centers has a collection of birds that look just like this. Some even will produce their typical call if you squeeze them!

    1. I’m laughing. After reading your comment about the European herring gull, I went off to see if there might be a difference between that bird and our herring gulls, and… Well, here I am. I went down the rabbit-hole, or the gull-hole, so to speak, and learned a few things about European birds! Seagull certainly works for most people, although I’ve heard a few impolite names given to gulls who frequent our outdoor restaurants and attempt to grab food from the humans there!

  20. When we grew up that was the only name we knew for the wonderful white birds that fly over our lake every day! It wasn’t till I started blogging that I learned there were differences! Now I try to remember to call them gulls to placate those for whom it matters but they will always be seagulls to me, even though I live far from the sea! (Actually, we usually call them Jonathans.) Usually they are too far apart to tell one from another anyway, except for those nibbling on a buffet in the grocery store parking lot!

    1. So yours like the parking lots, as well. Most of our grocery store lots are filled with grackles, while the gulls flock to places like Target and Walmart. I wonder if the birds get together and divvy up the territory, so everyone gets to eat what they prefer?

      I couldn’t remember seeing gulls in Iowa, so I went looking. Sure enough: they’re abundant around the Mississippi River and the Iowa lakes. Most of those are in the more northerly parts of the state, and we never traveled there, so that explains that. Robins, red-winged blackbirds, and nighthawks were what I remember best.

    1. I enjoyed those gulls immensely. Their afternoon time on the dock was just part of their routine, and watching them was part of mine. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem; I always find something new and amusing in it. It occurred to me that a slight revision of my favorite line might be possible, too:

      …all suggest deskwork: grading curves
      by day, Schleiermacher
      by night, and endless coffee…

  21. I enjoyed the Updike poem, Linda. As a lifelong birder, I find much of the world is oblivious to birds, which is a shame. So anyone who pays attention, in my book, is a step ahead, no matter what they call the bird. As for gulls, beautiful, resourceful birds and oh, can they fly.

    1. Gulls do fly — as well as dip, swoop, wheel, and soar. They’re the most acrobatic birds I’ve ever seen. Anyone with a couple of pieces of bread and some time on their hands can find real entertainment with a flock of gulls. I’ve always wondered why the single gull who finds a source of food — whether a bit of bread or a shrimp pulled from the water — starts announcing the fact. It takes about ten seconds for one gull to transform into twenty or more –all intent on grabbing the goodies for themselves!

    1. Thank you, John. I’ve seen you here and there, but never took the time to explore your blog — now I’ll have the chance. It looks quite appealing. You might also enjoy my other blog, titled Lagniappe. I started it a few years ago as a place to focus on (mostly) photography, leaving this site for (mostly) writing. The primary thing I’ve learned is that trying to serve two masters is as difficult as ever, but I am having fun!

      1. You are welcome! And thanks so much for your kind comment. I am an amateur photographer who always has a camera in his hand according to my father! And, he is right. Blogging is so much fun and I have made long-term friends around the globe thanks to blogging. Your blog is a great find!

  22. In a hundred years will it really matter to any of us? I can’t change John nor Mia but I can change myself. From now on I will add a space between sea and gull when I read that title. One has to admit Gulls by the Sea would be a less catchy title but Sea Gulls not as bad.

    1. Well, perspective often depends on our primary interests. When you have a poet and an ornithologist looking at the same bird, descriptions can vary. Of course, there’s nothing that says the same person can’t be both a poet and a scientist, depending on the circumstances.

  23. I really love the poem — I try to read poetry from time to time but whether I dip into an anthology or a website, all I come across are poems about passionate love or depressing mortality. This poem helps me see familiar things in delightful new ways.
    As far as “seagull,” I have heard people correct others about vulture/buzzard. To me, all language terms are arbitrary anyway, people made up both terms to start with so I would not correct someone for using the “wrong” one. Although I did quit reading a novel one time because the author implied that cerulean and cobalt were exactly the same color….

    1. That made me laugh. In a way, different names for different colors are akin to names that the scientists use for the world around us. It doesn’t make a whit of difference to someone in awe of a field of wildflowers what the scientific names of the flowers might be, but specificity and clarity are important for the botanists who study them. Different vocabularies for different communities. That’s one reason I try my best to use both common names and correct terminology in my blog. I have readers who are professional plant people and readers whose general reaction is, “Oh! Pretty flower!” It’s good to address them both.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.