Seagull eggs collected near Ahousaht. (Denise Titian photo)
Very few people eat them anymore - but for those that do, a scrambled seagull egg is a rare, once-a-year treat.
Every June, for as long as he can remember, Steve Titian and a few of his family members board an open boat headed for the islets that dot the open ocean between Flores and Vargas Islands in Clayoquot Sound. There, the seabirds reign on the rocky reefs, depositing their black-speckled army green eggs in the swatches of seagrasses they nest in.
The western sides of the small islands and reefs are exposed to the open ocean so they must be approached from the protected east side. The boat gently noses up to the kelp-covered rocks before 73 year-old elder Arlene Paul scrambles off of the bow and onto the rocks.
Carrying five gallon pails, the family scours the island, loading up with seagull eggs as the birds circle above, squawking, squealing and dropping the occasional bird bomb.
Titian says they begin checking the nests in early June and do about three harvests spaced over a week.
“They usually lay up to three eggs so we leave one in the nest and take the rest,” he explained.
They did their first harvest on June 12 and got about 80 eggs. Their second trip netted about 200 eggs.
“We leave them alone for two or three days to give them a break and allow them to lay more eggs,” Titian said.
And when they get back to the village they give eggs freely to those that love eating them.
The seagull egg can be used any way that a chicken egg is used but people from Ahousaht prefer them scrambled. A seagull egg is much larger than a chicken egg and the rich yolks are deep orange, almost red. When cooked the scrambled seagull egg looks like a cheddar cheese omelet.
Some say they taste fishy but Steve says they taste just like chicken egg – only salty.
He is not worried about the garbage-scavenging reputation of the seagull. Titian has been eating seagull eggs all his life and the eggs he eats come from birds that live offshore and consume a natural seagull diet.
“Seagulls have a stronger immune system than anything else so I like to eat their eggs,” said Steve.
There is only a short window of time to get seagull eggs; about one week in June.
“After that the heat of summer helps incubate the eggs so if you wait too long you might find seagull embryos when you crack open the egg,” Steve explained.
The 2017 seagull egg harvest ended after the third week of June.