Conch: A Royal Gift
Pretty Picket Fences
Selected feature stories from Abaco Life magazine
When Vertrum Lowe was growing up in Green Turtle Cay many years ago, he had a very unusual pet. The animal followed him around, ate fish out of his hand, and when Vertrum went to school in the morning, the pet would swoop into the school window and land on his desk.
It was a Summer Sea Gull, or Laughing Gull. "He just had pinfeathers when I got him," says Vert, a life-long resident of New Plymouth and a well-known craftsman of model boats. "Someone had brought him from the northern cays when he was only five or six days old."
Vert was 12 or 13 years old. And during the five or six years he had him as a pet, the bird acted as a "guard bird," attacking strangers who came around. He also fetched marbles and deposited them on Vert's steps.
"Wherever I went, he followed," he remembers. "I called him 'Gull,' and if he could hear me when I called him, he would answer back."
Anyone visiting New Plymouth during the spring and summer knows the cry of the Laughing Gull, one of three types of gulls found in Abaco. They appear suddenly in March, swirling and swooping over the harbour, making raucous cries and coming remarkably close to anyone willing to feed them. At six-and-a-half inches in length, they are the smallest of the gulls, and are easily identified by their black head, dark bill, dark grey upperparts and white underparts. Winter visitors include two other species, Herring Gulls and Ring-Billed Gulls, both in two different plumages. But the Laughing Gull is the only gull around in the summer months. While their habitat varies, and they sometimes disappear for periods starting in September, they are still around, flocking back to town during storms or fine weather.
Few people believe Vertrum when he tells them the tale of his gull. But the truth, he says, is that he had not only one, but two pet Laughing Gulls. A few years after the first bird came out on the losing end of a fight with a dog, Vertrum obtained a second bird in much the same way as the first. "He would fly off during the day with the wild birds, but return every night," Vertrum says. "When they left in the winter, he stayed. He was friends with a potcake named 'King' and shared meals with him, even though the dog tried to swat him, and the two would walk together."
One day Sid Lowe called Vertrum from his store in the settlement. The bird was there begging for food, and Sid wanted to prove to customers that the gull would go to its owner if called. Vertrum did and the bird flew home. "Early training is the secret," says Vertrum. "I'd have three or four of them as pets now if there weren't so many cats on the island."
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