Photographer captures entangled gull's panicked struggle with plastic bag

Shawn Fitzpatrick never gets tired of taking pictures of the birds on Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's.

But the photos he captured on New Year's Day of a herring gull desperately trying to free itself from a plastic bag left him saddened and disturbed.

"It was going under a couple of times. I thought it might drown at first but it did manage to get through the slob ice and up onto the edge and it struggled really hard to fly across to the flock,"  he told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"When it's man-made garbage and you've got plastic wrapped around something, that's the saddest thing of all."

Submitted by Shawn Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick felt helpless watching the gull wrestling to save its life, and considered trying to remove the bag himself.

"I contemplated for a second. Maybe it's not that deep there, I could jog out, but it was really crappy weather and the odds of me getting out even up to my waist or something and grabbing it were not good. It would have naturally tried to fly further out from me so it would have been perilous for both of us."

Fitzpatrick eventually lost sight of the bird among the thousands on other gulls on the lake, and with sharp-eyed eagles in the area, he wasn't optimistic about its chances of survival. 

Submitted by Shawn Fitzpatrick

It isn't the first time Fitzpatrick has spotted a bird in a similar predicament, and he suspects bags are blowing away from the grocery store that sits at one end of Quidi Vidi Lake.

"Things blow out of trunks and stuff … and when they get tangled up around the birds and other wildlife it's hard for them to get released from that," he said.

'Nuisance bird, just a gull'

Fitzpatrick made a lengthy post on Facebook detailing the encounter and reacting to comments about seagulls, writing on Facebook that they are also called "Shit hawk, nuisance bird, or just a gull," and not worth caring about.

Gavin Simms/CBC

His Facepost post also reads in part, "Wildlife is not the big problem on the planet. Humans are! And in typical fashion we continue to place blame elsewhere. Life is precious for all. And this gull tried hard to preserve its own."

Fitzpatrick hopes people will embrace the new decade by doing what they can to reduce the amount of damage human activity has done to the environment. 

"Do something, do a little bit. If you see a cup blowing around pick it up and find a garbage can. Nobody wants one person to be going around doing the heavy load for everybody. You don't have to pick up all the garbage that you see, but pick something up."

Submitted by Shawn Fitzpatrick

Fitzpatrick said birds and other animals can't be blamed for trying to survive, and rather than blame the gulls for tearing open garbage bags, he suggests people take responsibility for the environment by making sure trash is properly secured when it goes out for pickup.

"Don't just throw a plastic bag out on the side of the road and say, 'Damn gulls, they're tearing that up.' No, they're not the nuisance at all, they're just part of nature."

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