Have You Met Dexter?

Dateline: Orcas Recycling Services, Orcas Island, WA:

It’s Monday. First to arrive as always, Cindy Lundquist unlocks the big, swinging bar gate and parks her car in the usual spot. She moves with the confident step of a seven-year veteran operations manager preparing for the day’s intake of trash, recyclables, and icky stuff that all commercial waste handlers seem to adore.

But on this day, with keys and lunch still in hand, Cindy’s intuition tells her she is not alone. She swings around and smiles.

“Oh, hi Dexter,” she says, hinting no surprise in her voice.

Dexter offers only silence. Handsome, unafraid, and maybe just a little too focused on Cindy’s lunch bag, he regards her first with one eye, then the other. In fact, Dexter just made Cindy’s day.

“Where have you been, silly bird? We haven’t seen you for a week.”

That Dexter is a seagull is old news around Orcas Recycling Services (ORS). He has been around for more years than Cindy herself.  And that Cindy talks to him? No big deal. It’s tougher for folks to accept that Dexter listens to Cindy, thinks about what she says, and then does exactly what she asks him to do.

To be precise, Dexter is a Glaucous Winged Gull (Larus glaucescens), considered a common year-round resident from here to Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and beyond. Imposing birds at 2 feet, beak-to-tail, with nearly 5 feet of wingspan, they are impeccably outfitted with snow white head and underbelly, soft gray wings and back, and pink legs.

One of Dexter’s pink legs shows scars from an old injury, providing an easy ID card for the uninitiated.

Notably for ORS, the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America lists “dumps” as a preferred habitat for the Glaucous Winged and other gulls. But don’t ask Cindy Lundquist to embrace ‘dumps-as-habitat’ for Dexter – icky stuff notwithstanding. Cindy keeps Dexter amply supplied with clean Old Mother Hubbard’s doggie biscuits, occasional unsalted peanuts, and lunch hour leftovers.

And this brings us to Dexter’s alleged command of the English language. Imagine what happens to an unwrapped loaf of Wonder Bread at the beach. Gulls appear out of nowhere, squawking and flapping and demanding bread.  And remember the dump scene in the spoofy 2011 Steve Martin comedy, The Big Year, filmed at an actual dump with a zillion screaming gulls in the background. Is this the future at ORS?

“No,” says Cindy. “I expect Dexter to maintain order at ORS, and he does. No squawking. No mob scene. He keeps them all in line.”

Oh sure, gulls will be gulls. Dexter keeps other gulls away from his personal source of Old Mother Hubbard’s doggie biscuits. Nothing to see here. But wait, Cindy insists he share his doggie biscuits with Little Joe and Puff Puff, a couple of resident crows. And he does so. They also greet Cindy in the morning, also know their names, also follow her and generally pal around like puppy dogs in the park.

So, the next time you are at ORS, take a look around. Is there a big imposing gull with a scar on his leg? Are two crows sitting suspiciously close to the cashier’s window? Is Cindy engaged in a private conversation with any of them? If so, tuck this away for your grandkids; ORS is a special place, where trash is king, recycling begins, and birds know their names.