A fishing net is thrown with a bait net, and a flock of seagulls flies “to steal food by cunning or force.” Only one seagull named Jonathan Livingston makes his training flights all alone. Jonathan violates all the unwritten laws of the Pack – hangs in the air, flies low over the water and develops a huge speed. He is trying to bring his ability to fly to perfection.
Jonathan neglects the main occupation of gulls – the prey of food. His parents are worried, because their son “had feathers and bones.” After listening to persuasion, Jonathan lives for a week like the rest of the seagulls, but then realizes the senselessness of such existence and returns to training. The next week he learns to fly at high speed, but he does not get anything done.
One day, swiftly descending from a huge height, Jonathan hits hard on the water and loses consciousness. When he regains consciousness, he hears a voice saying that Jonathan is just a seagull, not born for high-speed flights. He decides to accept and return to the Pack, but on the way home finds a solution: the speed can be controlled by reducing the length of the wings. Forgetting about failure, he trains and achieves success.
In the morning, Jonathan accidentally crashes into the breakfast party, but copes with the management. In the afternoon, he manages to make several aerobatics figures. In the evening, the next meeting of the Pack is going to. The oldest tells Jonathan to go to the middle of a gull-formed circle. This is “or the greatest shame, or greatest honor.” He expects praise, because he did what no seagull ever did before him. However, the Elder sentenced Jonathan to exile to the Far Rocks for violating the dignity and customs of the Chaika Family.
The rest of his days the seagull spends alone. Every day he learns something new and learns to apply his skills, getting food. He does not miss the Pack and lives a “long happy life.”
Jonathan is getting old. One day, near its wings, there are two shining, white gulls that can fly no worse than he. The seagulls say that Jonathan is from their Pack and they call him home. Climbing over the clouds, Jonathan also becomes snow-white and radiant. He falls into another world and decides that this is heaven, a paradise for seagulls. Jonathan begins to forget about his past life.
Here, too, the Pack lives. All birds work tirelessly. Their goal is to achieve perfection. Mentor, snow-white gull Sullivan, says that birds like Jonathan are the rare exception. Usually gulls move into another world, almost unchanged, so each next world is little different from the previous one. To become like Jonathan, ordinary gulls have to go through tens of thousands of worlds and live tens of thousands of lives. The oldest Pack explains to Jonathan that this world is not at all heaven, and heaven is “not a place and not a time: this is the achievement of perfection.” Jonathan... will come to perfection when he learns to fly with the speed of thought. The oldest knows this, and Jonathan asks him to teach him.
After a while, Jonathan realizes that he is created perfect and his possibilities are endless. He instantly moves to a planet with two suns. Now Jonathan learns to move in time. The day comes when the feathers of the Old One begin to shine even more blindingly. He disappears by telling Jonathan: “Try to understand what love is”.
Soon Jonathan begins to remember his old Pack. It seems to him that there could appear a seagull, who decided to “break out of the shackles of his nature.” Perhaps this seagull was also expelled. Jonathan increasingly wants to return to earth. In vain Sullivan discourages him. One day, Jonathan returns home and finds the seagull Fletcher, who was sentenced to exile. He becomes the first disciple of Jonathan.
Fletcher Lind is eager to fly and becomes almost an ideal student. By the end of the third month, Jonathan had six more students, all six – “Exiles, carried away by a new strange idea: to fly for the joy of flying.” In the evenings, Jonathan tries to teach them the idea of an all-embracing freedom, but the pupils, exhausted for the day, fall asleep without listening to the teacher.
A month later, Jonathan decides to return to the Pack. Although the students and against, they fly for the mentor. The oldest orders not to pay attention to the Exiles. For a while, Jonathan only sees the gray backs of his tribesmen, but does not attach any importance to this. He continues to teach.
Over time, students begin to listen to Jonathan more closely, and at night they are surrounded by young gulls from the Pack – they are also interested in listening to the mentor. A month after returning, the youth of the Pack begin to move to Jonathan. One of the seagulls, Kirk Maynard, has a wing broken, but he wants to fly and asks Jonathan for help. Jonathan tells him: “You are free, and nothing can stop you.” Kirk spreads his wings and rises to the sky in front of the astonished Pack. The disciples begin to regard the mentor as a god.
A week later, the misfortune happens: Fletcher can not cope with the management and crashes into the granite rock at the highest speed. In another world, Jonathan catches up with him and offers the choice: to stay at this level or go home. Fletcher returns. Seeing that he is not dead, the Pack decides that Jonathan is either the Devil or the Son of the Great Seagull. After this incident, Fletcher learns instant moves.
Soon Jonathan decides that he no longer needs the Pack. He instructs Fletcher: “Keep looking for yourself, try every day to get one step closer to the real almighty Fletcher, he’s your mentor.” Then Jonathan’s body begins to shine with a ghostly light, it melts in the air, and Fletcher begins to train green beginners.