There is many a humorous tale of seagulls snatching fish and chips on the shore. These birds have become synonymous with the sea, a vision of an English summer holiday, and a well-worn tongue in cheek nuisance. While seagulls seem far from the usual pests of rats, lice and even pigeons – they can cause chaos.
Badly behaved, aggressive, destructive and noisy – all along the coastal region these birds are born troublemakers. On Cornish country streets, the post service even had to suspend deliveries when seagulls started to swoop and squawk every time someone stepped out their red van. Aside from postmen getting pecked, seagulls have known to be responsible for heart attacks, split lips, bloody heads and even the occasional broken bone. Anyone who has seen Hitchcock’s The Birds will already have a shudder down their spine.
Yet, even away from the drama of broken bones and blood, the urban gull’s population is growing by 20% a year. These birds are big, they boast two-inch sharp beaks, oversized wings, and can duck down at a speed of over 60kph. Not only do seagulls cause chaos, but they are a noise nuisance to small towns and they also make a mess by browsing through bins, excreting all over the place, and making a mess through their scavenger hunts for food.
Along with scattering trash all over the place and attacking every ice-cream in sight, Seagulls can also carry nasty diseases. They have been known to carry cryptosporidiosis, a nasty parasitic disease that can lead to stomach cramps, diarrhea and fever. If they get into your food and water stash they can also contaminate with E-Coli, which is the loathed bacteria known to cause food poisoning.
Seagulls are nesting birds, and they won’t think twice about setting up shop in your roof, your chimney or on any of your ledges. They can adapt to pretty much any environment and when they have young or eggs in the nest they can get even more crazy and aggressive. Droppings, stray feathers, squawking and carrying trash and sticks to your roof – if they set up home in your chimney then you run the risk of a fire hazard. Not only, do you have to worry about a fire hazard, but roof tiles can also be damaged by seagulls building their homes.
Seagulls by airports are also bad news especially for pilots. Gulls can be an aviation safety threat when they nest around take-off and landing spots. In some places, especially areas with lakes where there are big seagull populations, the waters are also starting to test more positively for giardia and salmonella – this can be traced back to seagull droppings en masse contaminating water sources.
Gulls nest in large and noisy colonies, they have an established pecking order and they are both carnivores and scavengers. The herring gull is the one to cause your knees to quake, these are talon heeled monsters who can grow to a mighty size, and like to swoop attack when they feel threatened or want to steal your sandwich.
The herring gull is also the most common seagull style creature you will see along the English coast. They can weigh up to 1.5 kg and can grow to 1.6 meters. These gulls can take four years to mature fully and have been known to live close to the age of fifty years old. Despite being unsociable and argumentative with each other, they do work in mobs and packs when it comes to their attack method and have been known to swoop at humans they find threatening.
Back in 1956 the Clean Air Bill banned the burning of rubbish in an effort for a cleaner, brighter environment. While, this was of course good news for the environment it also led to landfills popping up across the country. These places provided easy pickings for birds wanting to easily and readily source food and contributed to doubling the numbers of gulls over the last two decades.
As the number of gulls grow, the increasingly adaptable and comfortable they seem to have become around us. They live in large part from scavenging food. Drive past any landfill and you will see flocks of seagulls picking through the debris. Call into any coastal town and the promenades will be punctuated with downy feathered gulls waiting for half eaten fish wrappers and ice cream cones.
City spaces and provincial towns are perfect for these birds, they have access to all the food they could want, they have their pick of nesting space, and they don’t need to worry about being set upon by natural predators. Sadly, this perfect habitat comes at the expense of residents. Gull brood sizes are also on the rise, mostly due to the lack of predators and the ease of getting food. In short, this is a problem that is worsening – not getting better.
Knowing how to watch for warning signs when wandering along the seashore can help you to know when to duck for cover. Seagulls don’t seem to be afraid of us, indeed, we actively encourage them by leaving our litter and food scraps.
Between the months of May and July is when you should worry the most about being bombarded by angry gulls. The rest of the year, they are probably just trying to steal whatever grub you have in your hands, but in these summer months they become super territorial as they are protecting their young. Fledglings that are hatched and not yet able to fly can find themselves on the ground, and if you happen to be passing at the wrong time, you could get swooped upon.
The first warning of a potential threat will be the gag call. The gull will make a low call and keep on repeating it. This is your first sign to step back and find another path. If you don’t quite catch the hint, then the gull will commit to a low swoop within a couple of meters of your head. Those who are oblivious may not even notice and think a seagull is simply passing.
The next step is full on bombardment – first vomiting and dropping feces on your head, followed by a targeted swoop with talons bared – aiming for the back of your head.
The best way to avoid the full brunt of a seagull attack is to keep your ears and eyes open for warning signs. If you do happen to miss the mark and step into an attack, then be sure to duck and cover your head.
Gulls are smart, sassy and won’t be steered away easily. People feeding gulls is the number one reason they stick around. Wherever you go on a summer weekend jaunt, you are sure to see people throwing down food for the birds.
One of the first things that needs to be done in the battle against the birds is to try and remove the food source from near your building or property. Proper disposal techniques such as lids on bins and clearing away litter is the start to cutting back on the problem right outside your home. Also, be sure to avoid putting out your bin bags in advance. You may find that the next morning, a gaggle of gulls has torn your rubbish bags apart and spread your trash across the road while searching for food. Not a good way to start the day.
Killing gulls outside of a government approved cull is illegal, so you can forget about poisons and pistols. To deter the gulls from setting up their latest nest on your roof you can consider spikes, wires and nets. Much like pigeon spikes, this doesn’t give the gulls an easy landing meaning that they are more likely to shop around elsewhere for a prime piece of real estate.
Nets and wires work very much in the same way. The method of choosing wires and nets is humane, cheap and can be effective – but if you already have a nesting problem it is more a future deterrent than a current problem solver.
Having netting or spikes around or covering your chimney is one of the most important aspects as this is a favored place for gulls to nest.
You can also invest in something called a mechanical spider, which in short is a mechanical spinning device with long wires that also deters the birds from settling down and nesting.
Seagulls and most birds have a different style of eyesight to our own. Apparently by using reflective material, streamers, mirrors and shiny tape you can baffle the birds into thinking your ledge or rooftop is covered in flames. Strobe lights are another feature that gulls cannot stand, however homeowners may find adorning their beloved property in pieces of mirrored tat and strobe lighting far from a suitable solution.
Aside from shiny material, it is also rumored that gulls aren’t fond of scary owl-like faces. Many people invest in wooden owl statues or even draw an owl face onto a balloon to keep gulls at bay. These are called ‘terror eyes’ and are a simple and very low budget choice for keeping the birds away.
You can also get mechanical bird distress systems which mimic the call of a seagull in distress. When the other gulls hear this sound, they will think that the area is a threat to them and will stay away. Unfortunately, this method can be short lived as over time the gulls grow to realize that it is an empty threat.
Less humane methods can include mild electric zappers that send an electric current through a bird when it touches down on your patch, and motion sensor water squirt guns. While not harmful to the birds, some people may not feel comfortable employing these methods.
But what if the birds are already well settled in your backyard? What if you run the risk of being dive bombed every time you step out of your house? While the above methods should certainly be employed in the future, the first thing to do is to rid yourself of the seagull problem at hand. Remember removing nests with eggs is strictly prohibited and professional pest control advice should be sought before trying to tackle a seagull problem yourself.
Fighting fire with fire and using birds of prey is without a doubt the best way to solve a seagull crisis. At Project Multi Pest we use two types of bird - a Harris Hawk and a Saker Falcon. These birds are a natural predator of seagulls and having them swoop over the site will send the seagulls scurrying without any firm plan to return.
Unlike other methods, this one carries a real natural threat which the gulls can recognize. While they can get over things like painted faces on balloons and water guns, the very real threat of a hawk or falcon will scare off the birds in seconds.
Maintenance is key when it comes to a gull problem. Clients should see it a little like having a gardener pop in for maintenance every once in awhile. Having a hawk or falcon fly over the problem zone on a regular basis is sure to make a significant reduction in the number of gulls terrorizing your home.
Our birds have been lovingly hand-reared since birth and are highly adept at working in noisy built up settings without being fazed. They have no issue soaring over factory units, industrial sites, stadiums and city center buildings. They have also been around the public their whole life so are not bothered by people in the slightest. Our birds have an article 10 certificate issued by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
We cover areas all around Kent, the charming seaside locale where we live. Being beside the sea means we raise happy healthy dogs who enjoy a wonderful balance and business and play. We also spread our services out to London.
If you suspect your home may have fallen victim to a gull invasion, then please do not hesitate to pick up the phone or drop us a line.