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Jodi Swenson
Gloucester, MA



Rats with Wings:

Sam's Story

Gloucester, Massachusetts November 1, 2005 


I sit here today with an empty space in my heart, because I fell in love with a rat with wings. It started on a beautiful day in mid July, There was a noisy seagull racket outside, I went out and found a tiny, fuzzy, little seagull no more than a day or two old, huddled next to some construction pipe. 

This little baby must have been taken from it's nest by another seagull and dropped here, all through the summer the babies fall off the 60 ft building next to my work, most don't survive and I had never seen one this small. I scooped him up and mom came complaining and angry at me.

I knew I couldn't put the baby back on the roof, I had tried with others, I and the babies were attacked by the protective nesting gulls. I took the baby home and called everyone I knew who had ever taken care of a baby bird and finally found a nice a man who cared for and helped any seagulls he came across, he showed me what to feed the baby and how to do it.

I was also told it was illegal to keep seagulls. This was advice I ignored, thinking that no one would care what happened to a gull, people hate them here in this tiny little fishing town and I was helping the bird, right???

I always thought seagulls were amazing and beautiful, and I enjoyed the tough guy, I'll steal what I want from you and look you in the eye while I do it attitude of the gulls.

So this little baby came into my life, and I had no idea how much he would educate and change me. My daughter named him Sam.

Every day I would take him with me wherever I went, I would feed him and clean him about 10 times a day, I could have started my own recycling business with all the newspaper I went thru and any conservationist would have been angry with all the laundry I did.

On nice days I would take Sam outside and let him walk around, my neighbors would hem and haw about how cute he was and give him treats, passerby’s would stop and tell me their seagull stories.

One man told me how he and the other guys at his work at Gorton's used to enjoy watching the gulls drop clams on their jerky bosses Mercedes, they took great joy in watching the temper tantrum he would throw at the sight of the abuse his poor car was taking. 


Sam grew quickly, everyday with less fuzz and more feathers, at the same time he became more outgoing, playful and funny. He loved people, especially the kids, when they were sitting playing games he had to be there, I think he liked the chatter of their little voices. 


Sam's favorite time was tubby time, he would sit in the sink and eventually the bathtub flapping his wings, dunking his head and wiggling his bum, tubby time happened at least 5-6 times a day and he would happily play in the water for at least 45 minutes. 


One day when we were hanging around outside Sam flew, one day he couldn't fly, the next he could, It was time to find Sam a place to go until he was stronger and ready to be released. 


I live in a condo and didn't really want him flying around my living room, I don't think I could have found enough paper for that plus, YUK! I called the same nice man from the beginning of Sam's story, he had a large fenced in pen with a koi pond where he would keep injured gulls until he could get them to Tufts, he told me Sam could stay as long as he needed to. 


A day after dropping Sam off, the nice man called me very concerned about Sam's behavior, something that didn't occur to me was that seagulls imprint like other water fowl, ever seen a duckling practically killing itself to follow his mom, that's undeniable loyalty and love, or imprinting. Sam was imprinted on people.


A frightening thought, considering that people hate, kick and shoot gulls here. I hit the computer, emailed and called 50-60 so called professionals about what I should do. All the advice was very conflicting and I just didn't know what to do. I wanted Sam to be free, but I was afraid for him. I decided to at least give Sam the chance to being a wild bird. 


On a pretty sunny morning I brought him back to my condo, I opened the window and let him out, he circled around happily squawking a few times then flew towards the water and out of sight. I kept food in the window thinking that he would come back when he was hungry and maybe he wouldn't bother people.


I sat in that window all day yelling to every gull I saw in hopes it was Sam, but he didn't come back, when it started to get dark I broke down and cried hard, part with guilt, part with fear and part with worry.


After a restless night, I drove to all the beaches I could, but I couldn't find him, I reluctantly went to work, depressed.


In the early afternoon I got a call from the nice man, Sam was there!! It took him a day and half, but he found his way home. The nice man told me he heard children laughing outside, and when he looked out, there was Sam with a group of children, that until they realized he was friendly were throwing rocks at him. 


We knew Sam may never be able to be released, someone was going to hurt him. I checked around more on the computer, and after being scolded countless times by wildlife rehabbers, I only had three choices. I could take him to a rehabber where they could put him in with other gulls, and maybe he would "wild up" and could be released, BUT! If he couldn't be released he could be euthinized. I could try to find someone who could teach with him, but there didn't seem to be to many places interested in such a common bird. Or I could keep him illegally until I did the work to become a wildlife rehabber and get licensed to teach with him. To me the third choice seemed like the best choice. The nice man and I were going to keep him, we both loved him very much, not a day went by that I didn't visit, every morning and sometimes in the afternoon. Sam was always happy to see me, and he loved having visitor's, he would fly and land on my head, play catch and chatter to me. 


Quite a few people met Sam, he loved everyone, even a few tough guy fishermen came to meet him, and thought he was the sweetest thing, they now look differently at those pesky gulls.

One cold day a freak snowstorm blew thru and Sam's net collapsed, he had to come back to the condo.  I felt awful keeping him in the bathroom, and I would let him out to walk and fly around as much as I could, I'm so glad today I got to spend those few days with him. 

It became clear that us keeping Sam maybe wasn't the best choice, and maybe we were being selfish. I went back to the computer and called a man at a zoo who had shown some interest in Sam after I had decided to keep him. He still wanted Sam, he could have his own area, and maybe someday they would find him a mate. I knew in my heart that it was best for Sam, and I needed to let go and trust he could be taken care of better by someone else.

I had to go thru the legal channels to get Sam to the zoo. The first thing I needed to do was hand him over to a certified wildlife rehabber. So after speaking with them, and a promise they would not euthinize him, I reluctantly let him go. 

After a few days of sick worry, I went looking for Sam, I had to see him, so I broke some rules and found him way back in the woods, when I was caught, instead of getting angry with me, the vets explained to me why I couldn't see him anymore. They thought with time Sam may wild up if he was in with other gulls, and human contact would be kept to a minimum .

The thought of Sam being free makes my heart sing, it's what I always wanted for him, and if for some reason he doesn't snap out of it, he can go to the zoo. 

Whatever happens, my sweet Sam will survive, he will grow and become a beautiful, majestic herring gull, not a rat with wings.



1 year later

After a long winter, an escape and a scary foot infection, Samantha was released on a beautiful sunny spring day on Cape Cod.

She, yes she (I had her DNA sexed) didn’t even look at me, she flew around happily, and dropped into the water, started fishing.

As I walked away and looked at her for the last time I had found a purpose in my life.

I’m now help orphaned and injured wild creatures. I’ve helped over 160, lots of baby songbirds, squirrels, cottontails, hawks, mourning doves, fisher cats, turkeys, rare shore birds and of course, lots and lots of seagulls.

I can only do this work with the help of the New England Wildlife Center, Tufts Wildlife Clinic, the nice man, my mentor the awesome Miss Grace and a slew of other folks and the patience of my great guy and daughter.




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