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Sistine Sea Gull: Joke or symbolism?

While thousands of umbrella-clad onlookers waited for what later turned out to be white smoke to billow out of the Sistine Chapel's chimney Wednesday and declare Pope Francis elected, some creatures had a better view than others.

Perched on top of the chimney for quite some time was a sea gull, amusing those watching live coverage of the Vatican on a dreary day two of the papal conclave.

For some, the bird (or birds, as there were several flying in the area) provided amusement. He quickly burst into Twitter superstardom, and a Twitter handle, @SaintSeagull, popped up shortly after the bird's debut.

So did @Sistine_Seagull, and @SistineSeagull.

For others, the laridae -- who briefly flew from the chimney and came back -- was symbolism for smoke soon to come, or something else.

"If the seagull catches fire from the pipe, could be considered a phoenix, and therefore a symbol of resurrection," tweeted Edward-Isaac Dovere, a reporter for Politico.

"I was about to report the seagull had left, then it came back, then it left again ... clearly a symbol of the coveted undecided voter," tweeted Robert Mackey, reporter and editor of The New York Times news blog The Lede.

Michael Peppard of Commonweal magazine took a more religious analysis, explaining the gull's symbolism in Roman history:

"The white bird signals white smoke later today," he wrote. "We are probably meant to associate this with the most famous bird omen in papal history, the election of Pope Fabian (236-250). According to Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 6.29), Fabianus was not among the likely papabili, but the Holy Spirit moved."

Whatever its significance, the bird provided some distraction from the waiting. Not long before white smoke spilled from the chimney, the gull flew away. Despite the meaning some more religious pope watchers saw in the bird, some wondered if its Internet self may have jumped the shark.

"The world did not need," tweeted Jonathan Haynes, a web news editor for the Guardian, "a Twitter account for the papal seagull."

A seagull glides past the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 12, 2013. The most gazed-at item at the Vatican this week will be a humble, copper, two-meter (six-foot) high chimney that will pipe-out puffs of smoke to tell the world if there's a new pope. Black smoke means "not yet." White smoke means "pope elected." AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky
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