I just got back from a two week vacation in Door County, Wisconsin, a little part of the Midwest that’s largely surrounded by water. For most of the two weeks, I was much less than a mile away from the water, whether it was Lake Michigan or Green Bay. I saw quite a few seagulls near the shore, but didn’t get hassled by any of them. Honestly, I wouldn’t think that this would bear mentioning, but, while I was harvesting weird news stories for my Weird Britain column, I found quite a few stories relating to hooligan seagulls. A few weeks ago, I covered a story where a leading English pianist had to cancel a concert due to a seagull attack. There is evidently a big problem with seagulls attacking people in Britain. Contrary to what one might expect, it seems like American seagulls are far less belligerent than British seagulls. But, why? In an attempt to explore why this is a big problem, let’s go over some case studies.
Man reports seagull who stole his sandwich to the police.
While the last few “Britain’s Least Wanted” columns have foregone the “Noxious 999 Calls” segment, rest assured that’s only because I couldn’t find anything memorable enough. Case in point, the Avon and Somerset police recently held a 24 hour event where their emergency services hotline livetweeted (#ASP24) their emergency calls to give the public an idea of what they had to deal with on a daily basis.
Some of the 3119 calls they got included:
- A woman demanded to speak to The Queen.
- A man was reported as missing and found later in the day lying in his own bed.
- A shirtless man on a Glastonbury road was found basking in “positive energy.” He was told to get out of the street.
- Another woman complained about how the airport lost her luggage and delivered it to her neighbours.
- Yet another woman reported the owner of the guest house she was staying at for not cooking breakfast.
- Someone else complained about being splashed with a puddle.
But one call really stands out: A man called 999 to report a seagull stealing his lunch in Bristol city centre and asking them to check CCTV on the off chance that someone has the gull-differentiation skills to catch the culprit. Listen to the call here:
Seagull invades woman’s home, bounces on couch.
Shel Williams of Rhys in North Wales has been visited by a seagull she named Eric (presumably after the famous half-a-bee) for several seasons. For most of them, Eric seemed content to just sit on a garden fence and peck at the windows, but this summer must have emboldened him. He recently been caught flying into her home, but she shooed him out. This carried on for several weeks until Eric noticed that she had capitulated and crept in. Quoth Shel: “I was on the computer in the living room and I heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet. I obviously wasn’t quick enough and instead of shooing him outside he came into the lounge and jumped up onto the sofa. He usually knocks the window from the outside. This time he was pecking from the inside.” Eventually, she covered it with a blanket and freed him.
She adds: “He gave himself a good shake and off he went. [Her cat, named Piglet] wasn’t amused though. Eric is as big as Piglet and when he came in the house the cat was scared and trying to hide himself away.”
When asked about the larger seagull attack epidemic, she said: “Eric is welcome back, just not in the kitchen. It’s a bit of a pain but I have to leave the door open for the cat. But I don’t want them culled.”
Of course, there are those who would agree with her. Take these vigilante villagers.
Dorset town declares war on seagulls.
Recently, in Bridport, Dorset, a gull was poisoned and the body left in the yard of the local police station. Quoth Officer Scott McGregor, “Whether you love them or loathe them, one of our resident seagulls here in Bridport is suffering following a suspected poisoning. The seagull had vomited considerably and when the RSPCA were sent out it was their view that the bird was poisoned. The seagull is currently looking after one chick and the RSCPA were dispatched, who are now looking after the bird. If anyone knows of anybody in the local community who is engaging in this cruel manner towards protected birds, we would urge them to contact the RSPCA. Seagulls are protected for a reason and there is no need to poison them, causing them unnecessary cruelty and suffering.”
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, all wild birds and their nests are protected by law, but licenses can be given to bypass this protection should things be clear that there’s a serious risk to keeping the birds alive.
Of course, it should be mentioned that there’s also a reason for the backlash. Recently, a Cornwall family’s pet Yorkshire terrier was pecked to death by gulls nesting on their roof. Another family’s said they attacked their pet tortoise.
Due to incidents like these, as well as the usual food theft and dropping their own little bombs on the people, Devzies in Wiltshire (which is, surprisingly, 50 miles from the sea) got a DEFRA license to shash the eggs of the hundreds of seagulls in an attempt to stop the gulls from terrorising their town. In Britain, DEFRA only allows people to interfere with wild bird’s nests if there is a demonstrable serious health risk.
Back in Bridport, several families got so distressed by the increase in the gull population that they considered moving to another town. Quoth Councillor Laura Mayes: “Its a two pronged attack. We have got hawks which are coming onto the industrial estate, which is where the gulls are nesting on a wide open roof, to try and scare the gulls away. For those that are brave enough to fight the hawks and lay their eggs, we have gone on to the roofs to remove the eggs. They are then destroyed.” Ive been a councillor since 2009 and its been a quietly growing issue. Initially, to be blunt, I thought it was a bit of a joke. Over the past two or three years it has got increasingly worse. Last summer it reached an absolute nadir and there were people contacting me every day. The noise at 4.30am was unbelievable and the other thing was the mess. I describe it as being a bit like an all night party every night where everything was trashed when you got up in the morning. They were the neighbours from hell.”
But, she acknowledges that it will take time for the effects to be felt: “Theres 600 eggs which have not hatched this year. But the issue is they reproduce at about 100 per cent a year. And they are fertile for 25 years. Once youve got them, the only way to try and turn it round is to be this focussed. Thats why its got to go on for this long.”
While seagulls are normally seen near the sea, many are attraced inland by the sheer amount of waste (particularly uneaten food) that modern life generates. But that doesn’t explain some of the more violent behavior. Here’s one case that might:
Scottish vet gives seagull chip laced with hot sauce.
Garry John Urie was an army man from Paisley, Scotland on R&R in Ibizia when he met an unusual girl he fell in love with. They fell out of touch when he had to go back and fight. He and his mates started up a Facebook campaign (Dear Garry John) that, while it gained thousands of likes, did not end successfully. However, he did find another girl and they’re now touring the world.
In Australia, he encountered a gull and fed it a chip (french fry for us Yanks) with hot sauce. In his words: “We were having a barbeque by the seaside and there were hundreds of seagulls flying about. A mate stuck some hot sauce on a crisp and held it out for one of the gulls. It swooped down, ate it and then you could see the hot sauce kick in. The gull made a beeline for the nearby water and was gulping away to quench his thirst. It was funny. The bird’s expression was priceless. The video has gone bananas – it’s all over the internet. I could not believe that it managed to net more than a million views. A few people have been a bit upset thinking that the gull may have been hurt but I am an animal lover myself and the bird wasn’t harmed at all.”
Here’s the video, which has over 1.4 million views (admittedly, mostly from other copies):
I should also mention that a similar incident happened recently in Ibiza with a man shot a video of himself feeding a seagull a chip laced with ketchup and a white crystal-like substance. Reports differ whether the crystal was salt (as he maintained) or party drug/horse anaesthetic ketamine (as the spelling KETchup he used implied). We have only his words and the implications his capitalisation brought about to judge; we have no more of a chance of finding that Ibizan gull he fed and conducting a toxicology report on it than the police have of arresting the Bristol seagull that stole the lunch of the guy at the beginning of this column based on the CCTV footage.
Honestly, I think actions like this might contribute to some of their crueler actions. A recent study shows that crows have some surprisingly good face recognition skills, and, while I doubt that gulls have the same sort of intelligence that crows have demonstrated elsewhere, there is the possibility that these gulls have been mistreated somewhere along the line and could very well be wreaking some sort of primitive revenge. Of course, I realise that I could very well be wrong; much more research is likely needed before we can reach a conclusion either way.