Speculation arose recently on an Ocean Beach Facebook page as to what happened to a gull on the pier that had its tongue protruding out of the bottom of his beak. It's not the first time it’s been spotted — but it may not be the only one out there.
“Yes, I’ve seen this defect before,” said Philp Unitt, curator in the Department of Birds and Mammals at the San Diego Natural History Museum. “I suspect it arises from an injury to the mouth from a fishhook, but you should really contact Project Wildlife, whose technicians and veterinarians likely see this condition regularly and have a clear idea of its exact cause.”
Linda King, a Project Wildlife volunteer and senior bird keeper at the San Diego Zoo, said, “I would not say it is a common occurrence, but you may see gulls with holes in their foot webbing as well… The salt in the seawater helps these resilient creatures heal if it is not a life-threatening injury. The lower soft palate may have had a fishhook in it, and as the tissue healed the hook fell away, leaving a hole through which the tongue can go through. It is sort of like people who put in various facial rings: once the soft tissue heals, if the ring has been left in, then there is a hole there.”
Project Wildlife’s consulting veterinarian, Jane E. Meier, confirmed the hole was most likely the result of a fishhook.
“It had some sort of injury that healed with an opening into the floor of the mouth," said Meier. "The tongue protrudes out of the healed wound. This may make it more difficult for the bird to eat and drink, since it would tend to leak. The oral mucous membranes would dry out more easily, too. A fishhook is a likely culprit.”
According to those who have seen this gull, he seems to be doing “just fine.”