KUNMING, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Qiang is a security guard at the Kunming Dianchi National Tourist Resort in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province. His job usually includes inspecting ticketing offices, managing parking lots, patrolling the resort and keeping tourists in order.
But recently, he was assigned a new task: feeding black-headed gulls.
"It was a little weird," said Zhang, 25. "I usually deal with people, not birds."
The COVID-19 outbreak forced the closure of many tourist areas in Yunnan, including the Dam of Grass Sea, a major concentrating area for the gulls in the Kunming Dianchi National Tourist Resort. This meant that the myriad of black-headed gulls, the migratory birds all the way from Siberia to spend the winter in Kunming, were left without food near the dam.
The gulls first visited Kunming in large scale in the winter of 1985. Since then, flocks of the gulls come to the city to get through the winter every year.
"The tourists usually provided bird food for the gulls near the dam," Zhang said. "But as no tourist had been there since Jan. 27, the birds were confused and probably in shock when they saw the eerily empty dam usually packed with crowds of visitors eager to give food to them."
When Zhang went to the dam to feed the birds for the first time, he was a little nervous.
So were the birds.
"Only a few little ones dared to fly over to me, and after trying a few times they found there was no danger," Zhang said. "Then they just flocked to me."
Zhang said he felt overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of the black-headed gulls fluttering around him at the same time, dashing about as they competed for food.
"I have worked in the resort for more than two years, and I never saw anything quite like that," he said. "It was magnificent."
At 9 a.m. every morning and 4 p.m. every afternoon, Zhang and his colleagues carried bags of gull food, each weighing about 150 kg, to the birds. He would scatter the food on the dam for the birds to pick up. Within a few days, the birds got used to the way that Zhang fed them.
"Every morning before we arrived at the dam, they were already awaiting us for food," he said. "These guys were pretty smart: they would chase our minivans because they knew there was food in it."
When Zhang fed the gulls, some would fly over to his head and wait for Zhang to feed them to their beaks.
The job appeared to be so much fun that some of Zhang's security guard colleagues also jumped on the bandwagon to feed the birds.
Zhang said that during the closure, many local citizens brought gull food to the resort, which "quite touched the heart."
"Many Kunming citizens were concerned about the birds and they did not want the birds to starve," Zhang said. "Some would drive to the resort with hundreds of kilograms of gull food, and some would even place orders on food delivery apps to bring food to the resort."
On March 3, the dam reopened to the public with a limit on the number of visitors, as the epidemic gradually went under control. The tourists began to feed the birds again, and Zhang went back to his work as a security guard.
As temperature rises, the black-headed gulls are ready to fly north to reproduce.
"I would miss the days when they were here," Zhang said. "I look forward to next winter when they come back to Kunming."