Seagulls - the Marmite of Sea Birds!

Seagulls - the Marmite of Sea Birds!

Seagulls are as much a part of the seaside as buckets and spades and fish and chips! Not everyone likes them though – they’re the marmite of sea birds! Find out more about them, plus how to stop them from nesting on your roof.

Seagulls in Towns and Cities

Seagulls live in towns and cities alongside us, as well as here at the coast. In the absence of their natural cliff front habitat, they nest on chimney pots and rooftops.

Seagulls wait expectantly for food on the beach

They live cheek by jowl with us humans. Intelligent birds, they ‘ve become adept at taking advantage of our rubbish, scraps and often slovenly ways.

A lot of people love them, some people really dislike them, others are indifferent. However, birds can become territorial in defence of their young when they are nesting. Especially when the young birds fledge and leave the nest.

Do Seagulls nest on your roof?

Herring Gulls have full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It’s therefore an offence to remove nests once they’re started and it is certainly illegal to remove chicks.

Seagulls nesting on a chimney
Seagulls nesting on a chimney

If you had gulls nesting on your chimney last year then it’s almost certain they will be back again this year.

Once they pick a nesting site they’ll return again, and use it for many years to come. Gulls start to build their nests to lay their eggs around the beginning of April. They’ll be with you for some weeks until the chicks have fledged.

How to stop them nesting on your roof

If you don’t want seagulls nesting on your chimney this year you need to take precautions now. Seagull-proof your roof in winter, outside the breeding season, if you don’t want them at your house.

You’ve got roughly until the end of March to get your chimney and roof protected against seagulls nesting there for the summer. They can cause excessive noise, mess, and damage to homes. Residents often find their swooping and diving threatening, and they can launch vicious swooping attacks in defence of their chicks. Particularly if they think that you are a threat to them (so being mean will only make matters worse!)

Various types of proofing solutions are available from a number of outlets. You can get plastic spikes to glue onto ledges and chimney stacks. Or chicken wire cages etc. They’re designed to stop or discourage gulls from nesting on roofs and chimneys. You can contact private pest control contractors and roofers who are able to supply and fit these devices.

What To Do with Baby Seagulls

When the baby seagulls leave their nests they have to learn to fly and be a seagull! The first weeks when they fledge are a nightmare for coastal residents (particularly if you like wildlife). Flying is a struggle, especially for a reasonably large baby bird. They have no road sense, so wander into the highway. With no sense of danger they’re sitting ducks for all kinds of things. In fact they have no sense at all!

You can see that this is a very young bird in the next photo. It’s tail feathers are very short, and there are bits of baby-bird down still showing. It’s feet and it’s beak don’t look like an older juvenile birds either.

Very young baby seagull
Very young baby seagull

Each Spring sees numerous baby seagulls being injured or killed. If you find an injured bird you should take it to a nearby vet. If it has a broken wing (or worse) they will humanely put it to sleep. They don’t generally charge to do this.

This poor baby landed in our garden here at Visit Fylde Coast. With a broken wing we took it to the vet who later put it to sleep.

Baby seagull with a broken wing
Baby seagull with a broken wing

There’s a knack to catching a seagull to take it to the vets. First of all find a cardboard box which is a bit bigger than the bird and put some holes in the side (or a cat/dog carrier). Then find an old towel. Put the towel over the top of the bird making sure to get it over its wings. Tuck the towel under the bird and hold it firmly to stop it from flapping and wriggling. Keep your fingers away from its beak because it will try to bite you. Put it in the box and tuck the top in flap-wise so that the bird can breathe. Once it’s contained and in a dark place it will settle down.

Seagulls in Trouble

People are getting a better understanding of the dangers that rubbish and plastics can do to wildlife. Fishing litter is a big problem, not just to seagulls but all wildlife, and dogs. If you find a seagull which has become entangled in fishing line and/or hooks, you should take it to the nearest vet.

Seagull tangled in fishing line and hooks
Seagull tangled in fishing line and hooks

If you do find an injured or lost baby seagull please don’t ring us here at Visit Fylde Coast – we don’t have the facility to attend to them!

Adopting a baby seagull

If you find yourself supervising a baby seagull which isn’t badly injured but has become separated from its parents, you could try looking after it yourself.

When an older bird (that still can’t fly) falls out of the nest it should stick its wings out and flutter to the floor (ie not die in the process). You might want to provide it with a bit of shelter and a bowl of water and see if the parents come to feed it.

Baby seagulls before fledging
Baby seagulls before fledging

If the parents abandon it, then tinned dog or cat food is your best bet for food. Depending on the age of the bird you might need to give it a helping hand until it gets the idea. Bear in mind that your new offspring will need to be fed three times a day, every day for weeks, and given fresh water. You will almost certainly end up with a pet for life too, and they live for 20+ years!

All around the coast there are people with their own ‘pet’ wild seagulls. They live a completely normal life, flying about, nesting and doing what seagulls do. They stare through the windows of their adopted families until someone comes outside to feed them. When they have their own babies and need more food, they bang on your windows and doors to call for room service!

A pair of ‘pet’ seagulls is a handy thing to have. Not only are they intelligent, they are territorial and will keep all the other seagulls away from your property. You won’t end up feeding any more birds than your very own pair.

Declining Seagull Numbers

Despite the fact that some people find gulls unpleasant birds to live alongside, the numbers of gulls are in decline all over the country. We should be helping these creatures to survive.

Seagulls

The UK population has fallen from 750,000 pairs in 1993 to about 378,000 pairs now. We have six common species, of which one is the Herring Gull. Although they are primarily water birds, none of them are in fact ‘seagulls’. They are all found just as much inland as they are on the sea.

Yes, they are noisy and brash and in large numbers can be overbearing. Especially for people who don’t like birds. However, they have a strong survival instinct, and that’s what they are doing.

We have destroyed their cliffs and beaches where they used to nest, so opportunistically they use our roofs. The seas are overfished so they scavenge on landfill. Some of us have undesirable habits and leave out rubbish, food waste and plastic bags, so these intelligent birds search out their food in our waste.

The sound of cawing gulls is as much a part of the British seaside as the smell of fish and chips. No one would dream of getting rid of chippies!

More about Seagulls

The resident population of gulls is joined each spring by flocks which migrate back northern cliffs and beaches to breed. Of course here on the Fylde Coast we don’t have cliffs and the beaches are well used, so we’re not that aware that the population has swelled.

Of the six species, the Herring Gull gets the worst of the bad press. The Black Headed Gull is slightly smaller and wears his cap in summer, reverting to a white head in winter. The Herring Gull and Common Gull have pink legs. The Lesser Black Backed Gull has yellow legs.

Herring Gulls
Herring Gulls

Did you know…?

That young herring gulls are just about the only birds in the world that can ‘fire’ their parents when they are chicks? Some youngsters decide that their parents aren’t offering them enough food and move to the nest next door. They start begging for food and hope for a forced adoption.

Have you seen them doing their stamping dance? They’ve very funny when they do this, apparently it’s to bring worms to the surface. Here’s one in action –

Seagull doing a stamping dance to bring worms to the surface

Amazingly, several species are known to form female-female pairs in colonies of normal pairs. Even more bizarrely, they set up home and attempt to raise a family using sperm donated by a neighbouring male (by copulation) and some of these pairings actually work.

Seagulls live sociably in colonies and it’s been shown that sleep passes over a flock in waves. Each bird monitors the vigilance of its neighbours. They nest close to each other often in colonies, and feed and roost together too. This colony living requires good communication skills and ease with each other.

A Helping Hand

Regular reader Maria contacted us with a heart-warming story of her kindness to animals, Maria told us:

“Our Herring Gulls have been getting a bit of a bad press but I see the majestic side of a beautiful bird.

Seagulls flying. Photo: Maria Potter
Seagulls flying. Photo: Maria Potter

“One summer I watched a juvenile suffer for three days with no water in scorching heat. On the third day I could stand it no longer and took it some water. The poor thing gulped the lot, watched closely by the parents. I returned with more water and a small amount of cat food which it greedily ate. The parents watched from a safe distance seeming to understand what I was doing. They did not try and take the food or water off the juvenile or intervene in any way.

“I went home and phoned the RSPB telling them what I had done. I told them I knew it was wrong to water and feed a gull but I was not going to watch any animal suffer. Far from getting reprimanded for my actions I was thanked. No animal or bird should suffer.

Seagull at sunset. Photo: Maria Potter
Seagull at sunset. Photo: Maria Potter

“Yes I have watched these gulls cheekily steal food from outdoor cafes but I have also seen adults attack them. These people then wonder why the adult gulls dive bomb at their heads.

“I hope my photographs show a different side to something wonderful and majestic. At night as the sun is setting they seem to follow the sun like they are trying to catch the last rays. They noisily call to each other flying westwards and often float in the water in the glorious golden skies.

“I know these gulls do not have the beautiful songs of a smaller bird but as my small grandson says they sound like they are laughing and I have to agree.”

Are they as Bad as People Think?

After she’d contacted us with the story of providing drinking water to a struggling juvenile gull, Maria was back in touch. She told us about an experiment that she’d conducted to prove that gulls are not vicious food thieves that attack people.

Maria says “We bought chips and saved some to throw. Cameras were set ready and I scattered chips around me on the beach. I picked some up and threw them in the air but the gulls were not tempted. Second attempt was taken and chips were placed all around me on the steps, still no reaction.

“My two companions sat with me, still the gulls watched perched on nearby lampposts. One hour and twenty minutes we sat on the steps with tasty morsels all around us.

“The sun was setting and now hidden behind the clouds and the air was getting quite cold, so we moved on back up the steps rather disappointed. Then it happened. The gulls, with great table manners as if waiting for us to leave, swooped in and ate everything. Better still they gave us a wonderful aerial display after they had eaten.

Seagulls flying. Photo: Maria Potter
Seagulls flying. Photo: Maria Potter
Seagulls feeding on the beach. Photo: Maria Potter
Seagulls feeding on the beach. Photo: Maria Potter

“In my heart I know these wonderful creatures of the skies are graceful and peaceful if allowed.”

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One Comment
  1. The council have recently contacted some of my neighdours Stating that they have received unsubstantiated complaintd about them feeding seaguls and that if any more are receivied they will investigate the matter further. Why are they wasting tax payers money investigating something that is perfectly legal.

    I await your comments on this

    Terry

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