feral-pigeons-columba-livia-domesticachequered-plumageA gullA gull
If you are about to take a holiday in Cornwall beware – the gulls there are said to be on the warpath. Local papers in the south west are full of stories about them robbing people of ice-creams and other snacks, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

At first sight there is nothing really unusual about this. So far as I am aware gulls have always behaved like this, both here and in other parts of the world. They are very general feeders and instinctive raiders, taking food not only from us but also from other birds. What seems to be different in this case is that most unfortunately (and unusually) they are said to have killed both a small dog and a tortoise. This is enough to involve the Prime Minister: David Cameron has said, somewhat patronisingly, that we need a ‘big conversation’, whatever that is, about the issue.

This was in response to local MPs who are demanding a change in the law so that gulls and their nests can be destroyed. Not only will this not help (more gulls just move in) it is not necessary. The law already provides for control of otherwise protected birds through a licencing system. The answer lies in making buildings and other places where the birds nest or roost unwelcome to them. This is already done with both pigeons and starlings by the use of strips of spikes where they would otherwise perch.

Of course, people being people, whilst some want to kill the gulls others encourage them by feeding. In West Bromwich town centre a large flock of pigeons, boosted by this, has become a mixed flock of pigeons and gulls. This is something I have not previously seen, although the species do have a lot in common. Feral pigeons are rock doves and, as the name suggests, they originally nested on cliffs alongside gulls.

You may have noticed that I have not described the birds as ‘seagulls’, a name never used by ornithologists, and rightly so. Gulls are at home almost anywhere in Britain, witness the breeding colonies in Birmingham city centre and elsewhere locally, where the buildings are just surrogate cliffs to them. Guard your lunch box carefully if you take your break in St. Phillip’s churchyard!


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