Gull friends

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Matthew Topen and Katrina Baxter are not alone in having seagull pets (your report, 21 September). In 1818 Patrick Neill, a natural historian who had a menagerie and exotic garden on the banks of Canonmill Loch, was given a fledgling great black-backed gull which had been found in the Forth by a fisher-boy.

It was fed on kitchen refuse and became very tame, and a close friend of a heron – another inmate of the menagerie.

In 1822 it disappeared from the garden only to return at regular intervals in the winter months until 1835, on one occasion accompanied by a young bird, presumed to be its offspring.

On these visits it resumed his companionship with the heron and the human occupants of the house and would respond to Neill’s call of “Gull Gull”.

John James Audubon, the American bird painter and a close friend of Patrick Neill, gives a full account of this “scorie” in his Ornithological Biography.

Patrick Neill was a printer and a “useful citizen”, according to Henry Cockburn. He became a founding member and first secretary of the Caledonian Horticultural Society and was largely responsible for planting the East Princes Street Gardens after the draining of the Nor’ Loch.

John Chalmers

Eden Lane

Edinburgh

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