Herring gulls rear chicks on Packer roof

Baby gulls and their mother on the RM Packer office roof in Vineyard Haven.

A pair of fluffy herring gull chicks are starting out life atop the office of R.M. Packer Co. in Vineyard Haven.

Owner Ralph Packer told The Times he’s been impressed by the dutifulness of the parents. “I’ve never seen them so dedicated to their chicks,” he said.

Roof nesting for gulls isn’t unprecedented, according to Vineyard bird expert Robert Culbert. “It’s uncommon,” he said. “It’s not weird, or anything like that.”

When they do nest on roofs, Culbert said, they prefer flat roofs, especially ones layered with gravel, as it mimics beach terrain.

The Packer office roof is pitched, however. When The Times visited, the chicks kept close to a chimney while their mother watched over them.

Packer said one parent stands guard over the two chicks while the other goes out to hunt for food. Then they alternate.

“Chicks don’t feed themselves until they learn how to fly,” Culbert said. For herring gulls, that’s four to five weeks, he said. The gulls tend to nest in colonies, he said. The closest colony to the Packer property is on Sarson Island in Sengekontacket Pond.

Culbert, who runs the annual bird count and has studied birds for “close to 40 years,” said the Vineyard used to have 10,000 nesting gulls, but now has less than a thousand. He cited predation by skunks and raccoons for ousting the gulls, many of which he believes resettled on Monomoy. Hatched gulls can also be targeted by rats, crows, northern harriers, and other gulls, he said.

“There seem to be more black-backed gulls than herring gulls,” The Trustees of Reservations stewardship manager Chris Kennedy said of the Vineyard.

On Cape Poge there’s a “fairly large” colony of them out by the Gut, he said.

“The black-backs are far more aggressive — they’re nasty — much more controlling of territory,” he said, also describing them as a bigger gull than the herring gull.

Kennedy said the chicks of either gull are adorable when seen scurrying across the sand.