Gulls consistently get a bad press. But the RSPB is calling on people this summer to take a more understanding view of this most misunderstood of creatures.
Morwenna Alldis, spokesperson for the RSPB South West, said: “Personally I love gulls – I like a bird with a bit of personality and gulls have that in spades. They’re bombastic, cheeky, incredibly adaptable, opportunistic, intelligent, and if there was a prize for ‘bird parent of the year’, protective urban gull parents would win. However, our urban gull is often misunderstood. We need to change the way we behave around gulls and try to live harmoniously alongside them.”
The RSPB and RSPCA both cite examples of where relations have broken down.
Last summer the RSPCA appealed for information after a gull was discovered on an industrial estate in St Austell with a crossbow bolt through its body. The injuries were too severe for the gull to make a recovery and it was put to sleep to prevent further suffering. This sort of attack is not an isolated incident.
Llewelyn Lowen, RSPCA Scientific Officer, explains: “Every year we receive calls about gulls which have been persecuted and the victims of abusive attacks. Many have stones thrown at them, others are left homeless after their nests are illegally destroyed and they may become the target of people taking pot shots at them with airguns.
“Gulls and their nests are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is illegal to intentionally kill, take or injure wild birds and action can only be taken against them under licence.”
The RSPB says one of the main issues people have with gulls is linked to the birds nesting behaviour.
Morwenna continues: “May to July is prime gull nesting season and during this period they can be quite noisy, which is an understandable annoyance if they’ve chosen a roof near you. But keep in mind that this period is short-lived.
“Gulls are also incredibly protective and proactive parents, they have to be as their chicks are quite worrisome. Before they fledge, gull chicks start to explore their rooftop homes, which can lead to them falling from the roof and sometimes even injuring themselves. When a chick is away from the nest, gull mum and dad will swing into action protecting their vulnerable offspring from all possible harm – and that includes us.
“If a gull feels that you’re too close to its youngster, and so a potential threat, it will fly over you at great speed and alarmingly close – rarely making contact the first time. This is a warning – it’s meant to frighten you into backing off. If you encounter an anxious gull parent protecting their young, perhaps in your garden or place of work, the best advice is to walk carrying an unfurled umbrella. Again, this is just a temporary measure until the chick has fledged.”
The RSPB say that second main area of concern for people is the way some of the birds feed, but warn much of the problem is of human origin.
Morwenna continues: “For years many people have openly fed gulls from their own hands – fish and chips on the beach were often shared with the gull eagerly pacing at people’s feet. Many people still leave bin bags of ripe-smelling food waste on the pavement (not in a bin or gull proof sack), again an easy snack for a gull. And with the discarded curry containers, soggy burger buns and half eaten kebabs scattering the street outside many local takeaways – it’s little wonder that gulls see us as their free meal ticket. A gull can’t discern between a sausage roll dropped on the floor (free-pickings) and the one you’re unwrapping for lunch in the local park, humans have inadvertently taught gulls that our food is their food. We must all stop feeding gulls both in inland and seaside towns and in our gardens if we want to recondition their current behaviour.”
RSPCA’s Llewelyn Lowen, said: “Unfortunately many see these birds as pests, but all it takes is a little care and understanding to minimise any inconvenience caused by gulls. The RSPCA believes that deterrents and non-lethal methods of control are the best way to reduce gull related problems. Not feeding the gulls, disposing of rubbish properly, and limiting gulls’ nesting opportunities in urban environments will help to reduce any problems.”