On August 18, at Rockley Beach, Lambeau, two friends and I encountered an injured laughing gull in the sand. She was paralysed, able to move only neck and head.
Not wanting her to perish in the incoming tide, I took her home and placed her in a large dog crate lined with newspapers and a towel. I named her Cupid.
I sent a video of her limited body movements to Detta Buch of Wildlife Orphanage and Rehabilitation Centre (WORC), Trinidad. From what Detta could tell, it is possible that the bird had a spinal injury. With no x-ray machine for animals in Tobago (mind-boggling!), the only way to x-ray and determine the extent of damage would have been to fly the gull to Trinidad.
“Keep her confined and let her rest,” Detta advised.
Ian Wright of Corbin Wildlife informed me that he had also found a laughing gull with similar symptoms in Crown Point on the Saturday. Sadly though, his gull, which had passed copious amounts of dark brown stool (abnormal), died soon after being rescued.
Concerns were raised. Why were two gulls with similar symptoms found in such close proximity one day after the next? Why did the dead gull have such abnormal stool? Are there toxins the water? Sending the dead Corbin bird to Trinidad, where there are avian specialists, for a necropsy could have given some clues.
On the Sunday and Monday I fed Cupid with blended raw fish soup. I was fortunate to get her to take sips from a dropper but would that be enough to sustain her?
Her eyelids were droopy, possibly as a result of weakness, pain and the frustration that a normally free winged creature must feel from being trapped in its own body.
On the Tuesday, two sources recommended euthanasia to me as the most humane option for a bird unable to stand, move or eat independently.
Minutes after putting down the phone from the second euthanasia conversation, I went to feed Cupid. While I understood the euthanasia recommendation, I decided against it. Miracles are possible.
Taking Cupid from the crate, I felt her writhing in my hands with unexpected power. Surprised, I placed her on the feeding table, expecting her to flop onto her stomach as usual. To my amazement, she stood, took a few steps forward and stood again, a determined look in her once-droopy eyes. I mused that she had overheard the euthanasia conversation a few minutes before and willed herself to show that an early death was not for her.
Thinking that her newfound strength meant readiness for release, early the following morning I took her to Coco Reef Hotel, where flocks of laughing gulls usually gather on the wall fringing the bay. To my disappointment, there was none there.
Nevertheless, I opened the door of the crate to see what Cupid would do. Excited by the sight of the sea, she waddled confidently out, headed for the water and rapidly paddled out. Recognising that she was not yet able to use her wings, she was retrieved and taken back home. Not being able to lift herself from the water, she would be unable to escape predators or, worse yet, jet skis that would mince her to shreds should she float into their path.
Despite the fact that gulls are scavengers and will eat anything from fish to garbage, I decided that Cupid should eat as well as was possible.
Daily I sought fresh fish, scraps or guts from fish depots. Pigeon Point fish depot ended up as my chosen “go-to,” as the fishermen I met there showed a high level of compassion and kindness. From the poetic Steve (listen to his conscious poems at Richard S Thomas on Facebook) to the generous Selby and others, I never left that fish depot without gourmet meals for Cupid.
Daily I would place her in a large tub of water to paddle and strengthen her wings. Then, one day, she finally pushed up from the water and flew up to the edge of the tub. Progress!
Daily I would open her beak, push fish in and she would swallow it. Then, one day, she began to eat the raw fish on her own. More progress!
On Tuesday, August 27 (the ninth day after her rescue), Cupid started flapping and squawking loudly in the dog crate in a way that she never had before. I sensed that she was ready to be released – whatever the consequences.
My only question was: where? I had not seen any laughing gulls in the usual places and, as gulls are communal, I wanted her to be released into a flock.
That Tuesday a friend and I drove Cupid to Barbados Bay, where, as another friend had reminded me, there are always many gulls.
Flocks of various seabirds were gathered on the rocks at the end of the million-dollar jetty when we arrived.
One fisherman, fascinated that we were there to release a gull after a period of rehabilitation, kindly tossed fish scraps onto the sand to attract other gulls to her.
When I eventually opened the crate door for Cupid, I experienced one of the most beautiful moments I ever have. With the power of a bird that had never known debilitation, she flew up and out into the sky, easily cutting through opposing winds, to join the flock of gulls who welcomed her as if she had always been with them.
We returned to the car with joy. One fisherman gave a thumbs-up for the successful release and assured me that “your gull” will be well taken care of.
“She will get breakfast and dinner every day,” he said, adding that they feed the gulls a lot to strengthen them so that they can multiply.
Cupid was released to a gull’s paradise – a beautiful protected bay with flocks of kindred spirits and daily fresh fish, so that she will never go hungry.