Counting Sea Gulls

It’s early November. I’m checking my mail when I decide to stand in front of my apartment building for a little air: Astoria, Queens, New York City, USA air.

I notice five sea gulls flying overhead—north to south—well above the buildings, asphalt, and internal combustion engines. No more than a few seconds later, another eight gulls pass so I decide to count. Why not? In no time, I’m over 50.

To my right, in the beautifully symmetrical little tree that graces my block, the sparrows are chirping up a storm. Proud parents zip in and out of the branches—still covered with green leaves—to feed their young. The result is a symphony of cheeps, peeps, and tweets.

I’m at 75 sea gulls now. Not sure if this is atypical or perhaps just a daily occurrence I’ve somehow never detected. As I near the century mark in about a ten-minute span, the sparrows are louder than ever. Are there more sea gulls passing than sparrows in the beautifully symmetrical little tree? I’ll never know but I’m digging the fine, feathered experience no matter what. It’s what passes for nature in these parts. Outside of the rare raccoon sighting, we’ve got cats and dogs and squirrels and we’ve got plenty of birds: pigeons, crows, starlings, sparrows, and sea gulls.

125-126-127…but I can’t help but imagine what it might have been like in pre-Industrial—hell, pre-Colombian—days. “I have never seen a river full of fish,” Derrick Jensen writes in Endgame. “I have never seen a sky darkened for days by a single flock of birds. (I have, however, seen skies perpetually darkened by smog.)”

The sparrow quiet a bit…almost as if they can read my overburdened mind. A sky darkened for days by a single flock of birds? Seems like another planet to me.

I reach 168 sea gulls before heading back inside. My neighbor’s imprisoned parakeet squawks as I climb the stairs.

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Read other articles by Mickey.

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  1. kalidas said on December 19th, 2008 at 11:44pm #

    Growing up in Northwestern Pa., I don’t remember seeing all these turkey vultures that are now ever present. After seeing one on the ground, up close, I surely would remember that.. They’re huge!
    We had many birds. Red tail hawks, marsh hawks, several owls, beautiful orioles and tangers, bluebirds, robins, all the usual songbirds but no turkey vultures that I remember in the 50’s and 60’s.
    Lots of vultures now.
    And coyotes..