Sunday, May 29 , 2016, 12:14 am | Overcast 59º

Captain’s Log: Shorebirds and Their Pecking Order

Watch the birds at the Santa Barbara Harbor long enough, and you'll experience their sense of humor

By Capt. David Bacon, Noozhawk Columnist |

I love watching critters at work and play. I learn much and find much amusement. Life can be serious, of course, and finding enough food can be an all-encompassing effort for our critter friends. But there is so much more to their lives and how they interact not just with us but with each other.

Take shorebirds, for example. Many live in and around the Santa Barbara Harbor, and I get plenty of opportunity to observe and think about them. They develop pecking orders, which usually become important when competing for food or space. They also engage in some very humorous acts. I am convinced they have a sense of humor.

Whoever came up with the movie line, “Mine! Mine!” as the total vocabulary for seagulls must have spent considerable time observing seagulls. I thought I was gonna die laughing when I watched that movie and heard that line repeatedly.

Some birds are full of grace and strength. Right near my charter boat, WaveWalker, a night heron forages and hangs out much of the time. It is a big male, and he is impressive. I’ve watched him hold motionless for the longest time and then make a lightning-fast dive at the water to come up with a flapping fish in its long and sharp beak. Even when active (“active” being a relative term when discussing a night heron), he’s like the sloth of the bird community. But when he asserts himself with other birds, they get themselves the heck outta his way — fast. That powerful body and long sharp beak look impressive to other birds.

The great blue heron is our biggest harbor bird. These waist-high birds get a lot of respect from other birds, as well as some critters. I remember watching a cat walk along the dock toward a great blue heron. When the heron lifted its head and turned to look at the cat, that cat froze in its tracks, then turned around and headed back the way it had come.

Here’s a classic case of a sense of humor in a bird. We had one particular pelican, named Junior, who would visit our boat along with two seagulls named What and Up (together they are the “What Up” birds, and you’ll see why if you come out on a charter with us).

Junior became very comfortable with Capt. Tiffany, who runs the WaveWalker with me. He learned that Tiffany wasn’t going to hurt him, and I think he just took a liking to her. The funny part was that when she would bend over to tie a dockline, Junior would peck her right on the hind end and then take off running down the dock like he was laughing his head off. It has happened enough times that I’m certain this is Junior’s way of sharing his sense of humor and friendship. Birds are funny.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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