Give Gulls Love, Not Chips

All About Gulls

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. The RSPB and the RSPCA is offering practical advice to address the problems that sometimes occur between urban gulls and people…

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.”

Gull

Photo courtesy of RSPCA

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.”

RSPB offers these tips for a happy gull-human cohabitation:

Gulls and Litter
  • Never put out food for gulls in your garden or elsewhere – gulls usually fly miles to find food on land and at sea; they don’t need your leftovers and will associate humans with food.
  • Don’t let good food end up as rubbish – it’s a waste of your money, a cost to the local authority to dispose of it, and provides easy pickings for gulls.
  • Use home and other composting and waste food recycling facilities as much as possible so organic waste in rubbish is reduced.
  • Never litter.  It’s illegal and antisocial, blights our towns and the countryside and encourages gulls to associate humans with food.
  • Always dispose of your rubbish properly, in gull proof lidded bins.
  • Never add to an overflowing bin.
  • No bin?  Take your litter home and put in your household bin.
  • If you have to put your rubbish out in bin bags for collection, put bin bags in any outer protective bag if your local authority provides these.
  • Always put your rubbish out as close to the time of collection as possible.
  • Never leave bin bags on the street overnight – gulls will find them and will break in, scattering the contents as they look for food.
  • Ensure domestic and commercial waste bins are not so full that the lids don’t fit properly – gulls will pull rubbish out in a search for food if they can get at the contents.
  • Fast food outlets and outdoor cafes should ensure food waste/litter is removed promptly and stored securely for disposal.
Gulls and Food
  • If eating outside, try to sit against a wall or other barrier so gulls can’t approach unseen.
  • Outside tables against a wall, under cover or with large shading umbrellas are at less risk of being targeted by gulls than those in the open.
  • Keep food hidden/covered as much as possible and take it out only to eat it.
  • Keep food as close to you as possible – don’t walk around holding your pasty or ice cream in an outstretched arm but keep it closer towards your body.
  • Avoid eating where there are many gulls `hanging around’ – this increases the chance that one will spot what they see as `free food’.
  • Before you settle down to eat outside in an area frequently used by others doing the same, scan around for any gull keeping watch from a nearby post or wall.  You may decide to move somewhere else – or to keep an eye on the gull.
  • If you see a gull approaching on foot (some will observe from a distance before walking closer), stare hard at it (this can deter some as they realise they have been spotted) and cover or move food closer to you (the gull may decide to go elsewhere).
  • If gulls are causing a commotion, it may be easier to have your picnic in peace elsewhere.
  • If you run or work in a café, clear all waste food promptly from tables.
Nesting gulls being aggressive in defence of their chicks

Learning gull language will help (from Peter Rock, independent urban gull expert):

  • Gulls will first give warning calls to persuade you to move away.
  • If you ignore that, the gull will swoop low towards you, but not touch you.
  • If you don’t move, the gull will defecate or regurgitate food towards you, sometimes with great accuracy.
  • If you still don’t move, the gull will fly down and make contact with you, usually your head, with its feet, sometimes causing injury.
  • If you are the target of a swooping gull, the best defence is to raise your arms to protect your head and then move away.
  • Don’t wave your arms around though – it will just make the gull more agitated.
  • If you have gulls nesting on your roof, you will learn what agitates the parents (especially when they have chicks) and may be able to change your routine to avoid conflict.
  • Wear a hat and use an unfurled umbrella if gulls are likely to swoop at you if you go into your garden – use the umbrella as a shield between you and any gull.
  • If a chick ends up in your garden and the parents are still feeding it, it is best to leave it alone and avoid going near it.  However, providing shallow tray of water nearby will be helpful.