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King of the seagulls

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About three years ago, Port Townsend’s Lora Wood was working in her newly opened restaurant, Quench Waterfront Kitchen & Bar, when she noticed someone watching her.

“It was in the fall, when the umbrellas went away and we were more closed in, I started noticing that this bird was up on this perch right here when I would come in to work,” Wood said.

Located on the Port Townsend waterfront, customers at Quench can watch sailboats and ferries pass by, with an exceptional view of the bay. Soon, the seagull was part of that view, sitting on the perch outside every day.

Wood didn’t think much about it at first. After all, seagulls aren’t an unusual sight in Port Townsend.

“I’d just walk by it, whatever,” Wood said. “People that worked here would notice it. Then, I noticed it was an everyday thing. I thought, this cannot be coincidence.”

Even though she’s a self-described animal lover who takes care of dogs and horses, Wood had never considered seagulls as anything other than scavenger birds who feast on stolen french fries at the beach. So she instructed her servers not to feed the bird that was watching them so intently from outside the restaurant.

“I didn’t want the squawking,” Wood said. “I didn’t want them stealing food from customers. I had never known a seagull in my life, so that was my assumption.”

But the ever-persistent seagull didn’t seem to care about Wood’s initial caution. He kept coming back, sitting on the balcony, watching.

“Where I stand on the line in the kitchen, you can see me from the balcony,” she said. “When people would come in and the doors would open, I would look up and see a bird looking at me. It would be so windy and rainy and cold, and that bird would sit right there and just look for me.”

Finally, Wood’s curiosity got the better of her. She left a bread crust on the balcony for the seagull.

“I started doing it every day,” she said. “It became part of my routine. Then, one very windy day, I went out there with a crust of bread, and every time I set it down, it would just blow away. He would try to get it, and I would try to leave it. It was ridiculous.

“I know this kind of sounds crazy, but I think we just sort of looked at each other and had this moment where I was like, ‘OK, bird. If you want this crust of bread, you’re going to have to take it out of my hands.’”

It was that pivotal moment between restaurant owner and bird that cemented their relationship forever. Now named Max, the seagull that had watched Wood day after day from his perch has become a friend.

While most people go to Quench for the food, drinks and company, another big draw to the restaurant is Max. Customers sit at the tables by the windows, watching Max and his family — he now has a Mrs. Max and two babies — sit peacefully against the scenic backdrop.

All year round, Max is there, spending time with his favorite person. Sometimes, when he’s floating out in the water, Wood will go to the balcony, call his name, and he’ll come flying up to snack on some salmon.

“No other birds land up here except for Max and his family,” Wood said. “I think he’s kind of King of the Seagulls. Obviously, this is his territory.”

Wood also noticed that when summer came around and customers would sit outside on the balcony, Max was always respectful of their space. He never begged for food. Instead, he would only eat when she fed him.

“Max is a little picky about who he takes food from,” said Tim Pratt, who enjoyed an afternoon at Quench after shopping downtown. “My wife and I both tried, but it was the owner of Quench who was the best at feeding Max little morsels from the kitchen.”

During the three years that Max has been winning hearts at Quench, Wood has come to know him. She recognizes him over all the other seagulls, and she has welcomed his family, especially one of his babies, which she named Poke, after the salmon poke that she feeds to the birds.

Wood has always loved animals. Max has helped her see that birds are special, too. They have personalities, remember faces and can form friendships.

“I think every person and every animal, they have their own distinct way,” Wood said. “He has a way of holding himself. … He notices my car when I come in, and he’ll land on the railings down on the lower deck and hop up with me as I walk up the stairs. I think he’s very cool. I call him Max Daddy. Not just because he has babies now, but because he’s got that dignified personality.”

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