Who’s to blame for scavenging greedy gulls? It’s us humans...

They may be a nuisance, but gulls have been forced to forage inland by mankind, says Ailin Quinlan
Who’s to blame for scavenging greedy gulls? It’s us humans...

BREADWINNER: A seagull claiming its prize of a piece of bread at Kennedy Quay, Cork city. Picture: Larry Cummins

WE’RE on holiday. It’s beautifully warm and sunny. I have just laid out a lovely picnic salad lunch on the wooden table on the patio and gone back in to get the water jug when she swoops.

We troop outside to find the seagull alighting on my carefully-laid table, jabbing at the bread in the bread basket and the chicken salad in the bowl, and almost knocking over my vase of carefully-arranged wildflowers; fuchsia, ferns and montbretia.

I scream and almost drop the water jug. There goes lunch.

It is, I must acknowledge, entirely my own fault. I’ve been putting out pieces of bread now and then on a low wall not far from the house, since I first noticed the seagull arriving.

She would alight each day around the same time, with a flap of her unbelievably large wings, and stand there quietly, gazing at the house until I popped out with the few slices of bread.

Now she has over-stepped the bounds and the guests are outraged. I can only blame myself.

From a seagull’s point of view, this human has welcomed and fed her with bread for the last while, and now she justifiably presumes I’ve gone the whole hog and laid out a whole banquet in her honour.

Everyone present has a bad story about seagulls. They’ve stolen sandwiches, torn open rubbish bags on the street outside restaurants and cafes, invaded garbage bins and scattered litter in the search for fast food remnants - even ripped up solar panels and nested in rooftops, keeping people awake half the night with their squawking and screeching.

Someone said they’d read about a school in the North Dublin coastal town of Balbriggan which couldn’t let the children out to lunch because the principal was afraid the gulls would steal their sandwiches. The children reported that the gulls would literally swoop in to try and take their lunches or grab food off the ground.

I had read the story of a seagull who dived down on a pedestrian in Grafton Street and stole his hamburger right out of the wrapper. The man reported how the gull actually alighted on his shoulder, grabbed half of the hamburger and took it onto the ground, where a number of other gulls joined it and started eating it.

Apparently, the urban gulls are so on the ball these days that some of them perch over the entrance of fast food outlets waiting for people to emerge carrying food.

So what are gulls doing? Why aren’t they out at sea like they’re supposed to be?

And now, as they encroach on urban spaces, bitter conflict with humans is fairly inevitable. People in a variety of coastal communities are taking the brunt of it, reporting all sorts of problems.

But are these intelligent birds which have made their homes alongside us really the bad boys in all of this? Why is it happening? To be honest, this influx is primarily out own fault. It’s all about us. Humans. Humans and the massive impact we have had on the environment.

First, there’s the over-fishing and the decline in fish stocks, notably in herring which we hardly ever think about. So, putting it simply, us humans have taken the seagulls’ food from the oceans and created a shortage, making it harder and harder for them to find food.

So when we created huge landfills near urban centres which boasted easy pickings and plenty of it, the gulls came there instead.

Next we got rid of the landfills so the birds moved on to the towns, where of course we’re really messy - messy and careless with the rubbish we create - so there are plenty of garbage bags and open bins left containing a plethora of smelly food remnants and even bits of junk food on the ground.

Seagulls are big, intelligent, birds, and as they become familiar with the way we dispose of our waste food, and realise how careless we are with our food, they’re getting bolder.

They’re snatching it out of our hands, tearing open our rubbish bags and grabbing it off our tables and we are outraged.

See, what you’ve got to understand is this: cities are an amazing habitat for gulls, according to Dr Adam Kane of the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science. He’s right. We’ve provided space, easy access to tasty waste cooked meat and food, and no predators to speak of.

What would you do if you were a seagull and the fish stocks were getting scarcer?

Experts warn that the influx of seagulls is a symptom of the breakdown in the marine ecosystem, and, because, on the east coast for example, there has been an influx of people into sanctuaries such as Ireland’s Eye and Dalkey Island - all of which were teeming with day- trippers during the lock-down.

So, you know, maybe we could be a bit cleaner ourselves. Keep our cities cleaner. Stop throwing rubbish and half-eaten food on the streets and leaving it in open bins and wafer- thin garbage bags.

And let’s not just leave it up to the local authorities to take all the responsibility. Be honest about our individual responsibility for what’s happening. Be more careful with the commercial and personal food waste which is encouraging hungry gulls to invade public spaces.

Like us, seagulls are omnivores, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that hunting for ever fewer fish out on the wild ocean waves is harder work than, for instance, tearing open a nice smelly black garbage bag or scavenging a tasty half-eaten fish burger in a bin.

Maybe if we all left less waste food lying around our streets, and allowed our fish stocks to recover, the gulls will return to the oceans and be less of a public nuisance.

Those who call for culls should remember the birds are endangered and that, as one expert has pointed out, culls can have unintended consequences as other creatures arrive to fill the resultant ecological niche.

Just a thought the next time you are about to throw your half-eaten chicken wrap into an open waste bin or onto the pavement.

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