Seagulls, or rather Herring Gulls, have made the news in the past few weeks, but for all the wrong reasons. As I myself live a few hundreds metres from the sea, it is a problem that certainly caught my interest so I decided to look deeper into the problems caused by seagulls.
Recently, some very nasty attacks have been reported on people out and about and also in their homes, (ITV News) and on small animals too, including small dogs and pet tortoises.
It has got to such an epidemic that David Cameron himself has called for a “Gull summit” to deal with the problem, calling for comments from the RSPB, Defra, Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation to work together in coming up with viable solutions to the problem.
Whether you love them or loath them, Seagulls have been part of our coastal life for probably hundreds or maybe thousands of years, but what in the short term can you do if your home or your family have a problem with gulls?
Current methods of dealing with “nuisance” gulls.
There are many ways of dealing with seagulls, some effective, some not so, but regardless of that, they are generally a nuisance, can spread disease, disrupt events and air travel, and of course they can pose a danger to humans.
Some people use animals to deal with them such as dogs or even birds of prey like hawks, which often get used on airport runways to minimse the risk of a bird strike (when a bird flies into a jet engine).
Decoys can also be used, scarecrows being the sort of bird decoy we can relate to here in the UK, although how effective they are, based on Wurzel Gummidge, is debatable!
Spikes and nets are also used and can be an effective way of dealing with seagull infestations in large or old buildings with overhanging canopies or architecture with level spots high up where nesting is ideal for them. This of course is humane as it discourages the birds rather than kills them, although some would argue unless everyone comes together and takes a stand, actions like spikes etc just move the problem elsewhere.
Some innovate solutions have been in the form of thin rotating spikes, and in Sutton Marina, here in Plymouth, (Where the rich 2nd home owners park their flashy boats) the litter bins by the water have been topped with what looks like a collection of wires floating in the wind, harmless to gulls but it stops them landing on the bins and ripping out all the trash inside. So Tarquin and Jocasta’s vol au vents from last night will have to stay inside the bin for now.
Sounds and scents are other methods that various claims say work really well, including mimicking the call of the gulls’ predators.
BBC news (15th August 2015) reported that the seaside town of Whitehaven are seeking permission to “employ” (deploy?) drones in a bid to destroy seagull eggs, more info can be found here, which opens in a new window.
How to deal with a seagull attack.
How dangerous are seagulls?
Well, A diving gull is extremely scary if you have ever been subject to an attack because the gulls weigh around a kilo, they have razor sharp beaks, with a 1.4 metre wingspan, and they swoop at around 50 MPH! Scary.
Firstly you yourself can do things to discourage the birds such as not leaving food outside, making sure your bins are secure, and somewhat stupidly, feeding them which if I can give you any advice, do NOT feed the birds!
A couple of years ago, journalist John Henley wrote this very good bit of advice for the guardian newspaper.
(How to spot the warning signs of an imminent seagull attack.)
First comes the “gag call” – a low, repeated warning call that essentially means: Go away. Next is the low pass, within a metre or two of the intruder’s head. Then aerial operations commence. Phase one is bombardment: gulls target the perceived threat with droppings and vomit. Phase two is all-out attack – usually a low, raking strike to the back of the head with talons extended.
Once things get to this stage, obviously, there’s not a lot you can do beyond duck and try shield your head. Best advice? Keep your eyes and ears open, and learn what the gulls are trying to tell you.
Our ignorance of their warnings is their greatest weapon.
A solution in the form of a new paint.
Considering all of the above, the advice about avoiding gulls, and the various methods put forward to repel the pests, a company in the UK who specialise in bird repellents have invented a special paint that they say will repel gulls, and in effect, reduce the risk of seagull attacks.
The paint is being trialled in Cornwall, a few miles from my own home so I decided to take a look and see what the fuss was about.
Ignoring the tenuous title of the paint, “flock off” (!) is a visually intense UV reflective paint that reflects the sun’s ultraviolet rays and as such becomes a visual deterrent to birds landing on the spot where the paint has been applied.
NOTE: WE DO NOT SELL THIS PAINT.
Many people believe that the birds should be studied and data collected as to WHY they have seemingly become more aggressive and why they are populating urban areas instead of solely coastal towns.
Simon De Bruxelles writing in The Times (July 2015) reported that Truro city council have employed this paint on the tops of lampposts and other areas adjoining the popular Lemon Quay area in response to many complaints from both tourists and business owners alike, with gulls swooping down to steal pasties (how dare they!) and chips out of the hands of diners. Not a great experience I am sure you can imagine.
He goes on to highlight an important fact that since the decline of the UK fishing fleet (thanks (NOT) to the EU), gulls are increasingly found inland and away from the ports, bringing a problem that, based on the evidence we have seen so far, needs a solution, and fast.
The Daily Mirror on the 25th July 2015, argued that aggressive gulls could soon be attacking babies! (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/seagulls-could-kill-babies-arent-6134582).
Whilst I think perhaps this is a bit far fetched, typical of Tabloid news, a man from Gloucestershire has started a “Gull awareness group” to lobby the government, whilst his own local council has a strategy to deal with gulls that has an annual budget of £13,616 although quite what they spend that on is anyone’s guess.
Who’s to blame? Is it our fault or the birds’ fault?
National geographic magazine reported that once they show up (seagulls), these intelligent birds stick around. “Here are animals that can adapt quickly, learn, and take advantage of a resource while its available,” said Andrew Farnsworth of Cornell’s Ornithology Lab. “Unlike for most wild animals, we’ve actually expanded their habitat and food sources with our behavior. Gulls are excellent opportunists and will keep coming back if they find something good.”
The solution surely should not be to try and kill as many as possible but to find a solution, perhaps in controlling the numbers or finding out why they are attacking, but as the herring gull is a protected species, careful steps must be taken to deal with the problem which could, in effect, be caused by humans and not by the gulls themselves.
From the different ways we found out that you can scare birds away, I would suspect the most effective method would be a “mix n match” approach, using two or three methods in conjunction with each other.
Seagulls have an average lifespan of between 35 and 40 years (!) so the problem is only going to get worse if the seabird population is allowed to grow at current rates.
If you have an opinion or ideas about a solution to the issue, or if you have used the paint we mention here, please do let us know.
Lastly, Cornwall’s famous “Kernow king” has made his own video response to the gull attacks, so here it is.