Aggressive Seagulls Menacing Urban Britain

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2

Two species in particular—herring gulls and black-headed gulls—are flocking inland. Their combined population is growing at a rate of 13 percent every year.

A survey of herring gulls nesting on buildings in Britain and Ireland in 1994 put the total at 16,900 pairs. Experts believe the figure has doubled since.

"In Aberdeen alone there are now 3,500 pairs, and in the Gloucester area I've counted 2,400," said Peter Rock, Europe's leading authority on urban seagulls.

Rock has been monitoring the birds for 20 years. His studies suggest that once they develop a taste for city life they don't want to leave.

"I've found no evidence that urban gulls return to wild colonies," he said. "That's because in the six weeks between hatching and fledging, chicks receive an imprint of what a gull colony is supposed to look like. They always return to rooftops to breed."

Better Breeding Success

Another factor contributing to the problem is the birds' increased breeding success in cities.

"In Bristol, herring gulls breed at a rate of two to three chicks per pair annually, whereas productivity in wild colonies can be as low as 0.1 chicks per pair," said Rock. "While roofs aren't very different from cliff-top nesting sites, there are no predators and disturbance is minimal."

The increased reproductive success makes the job of trying to control their numbers all the more difficult. Local authorities are getting increasingly desperate judging by some of the control methods proposed.

Suggested remedies include using slingshots and dried peas to drive the birds off, luring them away from urban centers by towing garbage-filled barges out to sea, frightening the gulls away using fake distress calls or litter bags with wasp-like 'warning' stripes, feeding them contraceptive pills, and using gels to make nesting sites slippery. All have proved either impractical or unsuccessful.

Bringing in winged predators such as hawks may work for a short period, but the effect soon wears off. "Some people tried flying Harris hawks in Bath," said Burt. "The trouble was they were lucky to get the birds back alive once the gulls had finished with them."

The ultimate weapon of course is culling. But this doesn't work, either, said Rock.

"It just opens up an opportunity for younger birds to breed as there are no adults to drive them away," he said.

Instead, local authorities have turned their attention to educating the public about ways to make urban areas less attractive to the birds. For instance, South Hams District Council in the county of Devon recently set up a special web site that provides helpful advice, such as how to keep garbage secure from scavenging gulls.

But Rock says a national seagull strategy is the only hope of a lasting solution. Until one is found, city dwellers can expect more close encounters of the bird kind.

Recent Bird Stories by National Geographic News:
Satellites Help Reveal Secrets of Epic Goose Migration
Birds May Hold Clues to Role of Time in Teamwork
Quarter of U.S. Birds in Decline, Says Audubon
Farmers, Conservationists Seek Return of Barn Owls
Seasons of a Birder's Life
Do Some Birds Cheat to Avoid Inbreeding?
Water-Diversion Plan Threatens California's Salton Sea

National Geographic Bird Resources:
Bald Eagles: Come Back From the Brink
Experience the Sights and Sounds of Eagles
Recent "Birder's Journal" Stories from Robert Winkler:
Birder's Journal: Ghost Town's Curse Haunts New England Forest
Birder's Journal: A Morning With Migrants
Birder's Journal: This Warbler Is a Master of Deception
Birder's Journal: Seduced by Dueling Thrushes
Birders Journal: Attack of the Flying Goshawk

Nationalgeographic.com Bird-Watching Sites:
Boston Area
Chicago Area
Florida Keys Area
Maine's Acadia National Park
Mount Rainier
New Orleans Area
New York City Area
North Carolina's Outer Banks
Philadelphia Area
Portland Area
Rocky Mountain National Park
Salt Lake City Area
San Francisco Area
Santa Fe Area
South Dakota's Black Hills
Utah
Washington's Olympic National Park
Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
Yosemite National Park

From the National Geographic Store:
Guide to North American Birds
Portable Birdsong Identifier
Birder's Journal
Songbirds Puzzle

Additional Information from Related Web Sites:
American Bird Conservancy
Fish and Wildlife Service Bird Web Site
National Audubon Society
Environmental Protection Agency: Bird Conservation

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2


SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.