Leave the seagulls alone

Everyone’s talking about seagulls at the moment. Well, seagulls and the heatwave. And the fact we’ve just got a new Prime Minister. But mostly seagulls.

Every summer lots of people, especially those in coastal areas like Torbay, grumble about seagulls. They’re generally referring to herring gulls, who are renowned for scattering litter and stealing chips.

Recently, though, the grumbles have escalated into calls for seagulls to be culled. One national newspaper’s online poll shows that 77 percent of voters support a cull, at the time of writing. Some vigilantes have taken matters into their own hands by attempting to drive over, kick or beat the birds to death, even though they are currently protected by law because they are endangered.

It’s a controversial opinion, but I say leave the seagulls alone.

The anti-gull feeling noticeably swelled after a seagull was reported to have abducted a chihuahua named Gizmo from his own garden, down the road from me in Paignton, earlier this month.

The news was reported as far afield as Australia, and when some people questioned whether the incident was genuine, anecdotes and videos showing seagulls’ capabilities, such as swallowing a rabbit whole, were shared on social media.

Many people think seagulls have “crossed the line” and gone from being a nuisance to a danger to public health. Some people are afraid that it’s only a matter of time before a seagull kills a human, and they need to be controlled before this happens – although nobody has managed to explain how a cull could be safely and effectively carried out in an urban area. But the seagulls have got just as much of a right to be here as we, or any other species, have.

A few weeks ago I was visiting Paignton Zoo with my 70-year-old father when he was mugged by a seagull before he had even managed to enjoy one lick of his ice cream, even though I had warned him to be careful.

I can’t really blame seagulls for their aggressive behaviour. They have young to feed and protect at this time of year (we’ve watched some grow up on our neighbours’ rooftops and being a seagull parent actually looks like really hard work) and in some ways they deserve some respect for their bravery and resourcefulness.

If humans are going to wander around with food, you can’t blame a seagull for fighting to get a share of it. If humans put out their rubbish in thin plastic bags, you can’t blame a seagull for tearing them open to get food scraps. If humans don’t want seagulls nesting on their roof, they should deter them with netting, spikes or devices that spin or bounce around in the wind. If humans are going to leave small pets outside unsupervised and unprotected, you can’t blame a seagull for thinking they’re fair game.

We’re talking about birds that weigh up to 1.5kg, not bloody tigers. Surely we can live harmoniously side by side. They have far more reason to be concerned about us, than us about them. They can annoy us, for sure – who in Torbay hasn’t been disturbed by the noisy buggers first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or had to clean poo splats off their car? But if we’re sensible, then we will be fine. Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie The Birds was just a story, you know.

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