An update on Otto the seagull

A photo of a seagull flying towards a ball

It doesn’t seem that long ago since I took in a baby seagull and started to feed it every day. Three times a day. And mop the basement floor twice daily.

Taking in the baby bird, which my wife named Otto, required a good amount of dedication to ensure the basement didn’t smell like a full-time chicken coup and keeping the birdy happy and healthy with a diet of tinned fish (mackerel and sardines were a favoured choice), the occasional dose of cat food, clean water to drink and bathe in, and the tossing of a cat toy for entertainment.

It turned out that throwing the ball was fun for the seagull. There was so much excitement to be had that it started to learn to fly this way – flapping it’s wings to chase the ball that had been tossed across the room.

Otto wouldn’t play fetch and bring the ball back, but almost. It would chase down the ball, pick it up using it’s beak, then run around the basement with it before dropping it to the floor again.

Before vs After

In the two weeks we had the seagull, it grew fast. When we first found Otto, I estimate it was aged 3-4 weeks old (pictured below, on the left). At this stage, the bird could not fly and it had fluffy, spotted feathering on the back of it’s head.

When it came for Otto to depart, it was around 5-6 weeks old (pictured below, on the right). Clearly a defined figure, standing a lot taller than it previously was – with fewer scruffy head feathers and the ability to flap around competently (but not fully fly).

A photo of Otto, the baby herring gull, at age 2 or 3 weeks old, versus 5 or 6 weeks old.

In the time we had the bird in the basement, it had not made a sound. Even the few days we looked after it outside, it made no noise. Ine and I had started to wonder if this was normal – or whether we had a mute bird on our hands.

During the bird’s stay, I’d made a point to not try to hold or handle the bird. This meant between grabbing the bird to put it in the basement and grabbing the bird for the grande release event, I’d not once attempted to reach for the bird. And when I did, it let out a loud and terrified squawking sound.

I was happy to know it wasn’t mute… and almost happier that it hadn’t found his voice mid-way through it’s stay.

Releasing a captive seagull

Once you have spent every day for two weeks feeding and playing with a baby seagull, you can get a good impression of whether it’s the right time to release it.

Otto got packaged up in a cardboard box and we booked a taxi to take us to Akershus Fortress in Oslo. The fortress is situated alongside Oslo’s harbour and has a selection of elevated open grass plains with relatively few people for a downtown spot.

I was keen to not release Otto back into my own garden in case it decided to stick around, or keep returning for food. And the fortress seemed like a good choice; a 15 minute drive from my home, where there were no cars zooming by in the event that Otto still could not fly, but close to the harbour – a natural habitat for seagulls and plenty of tourists dropping scraps of food.

As the seagull grows, they quickly become independent. And you could see that with Otto. Although it hadn’t flown – rather just flapped around the basement – I was pretty sure it was the right time to let it go.

Here is a video of Otto being released from the box and into the fortress grounds:

After releasing Otto, we stood and watched for a while. It wasn’t long before Otto attempted to fly – but the first attempt was similar to what I had previously seen in the basement; a hop from the ground and a flap of the wings. Not so successful, but encouraging.

It was on the second attempt that Otto took to the skies. After a little run up, Otto lifted off and circled the fortress grounds, getting used to flying before returning to the grassy area from where it took off.

This is Otto‘s first flight:

It was a happy moment and couldn’t have gone better. From initially taking Otto in and saving the bird from being attacked by the neighbourhood cats, to releasing the bird back into the wild – it all went as planned.

As animal and bird welfare organisations recommend; if you find a baby bird that has fallen from the nest – the best thing to do, in most cases, is to leave it for the parents to find.

For Otto, this wasn’t going to work and I’m happy we saved him. I’m elated that it was a success; that we released him and got to see him fly.

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