Just live and let fly!

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

THIS year’s beastly species is the her­ring gull. Re­ports of gi­ant gulls killing pet dogs and at­tack­ing old peo­ple have made this bird the media’s bête noire for 2015.

I re­mem­ber walk­ing on a na­ture re­serve on Wal­ney Is­land in Cum­bria in the 1990s and be­ing di­ve­bombed by gulls. We were walk­ing through one of Europe’s largest nest­ing ar­eas for the birds and were told to wear crash hel­mets. In this case the gulls were pro­tect­ing their young, any­one walk­ing in that area in the spring would have to duck and dive.

Nest­ing birds are very pro­tec­tive and her­ring gulls, with their four-foot wing­span and sharp beaks, do make a fright­en­ing as­sailant. It could ex­plain why a York­shire ter­rier was at­tacked and killed ear­lier this year.

The gull will give you plenty of warn­ing ‘shout­ing’ for you to get away from its nest­ing area, fol­lowed by a low swoop with a bom­bard­ment of poo or vomit. Then comes the at­tack – you should be well out of the way when this be­gins, if you are sen­si­ble.

Of course, in coastal re­sorts, some her­ring gulls have been ac­cused of mug­ging peo­ple for their chips or pasties. I re­mem­ber an army of gulls mov­ing ever closer as I munched on a Cor­nish pasty in St Ives, it cer­tainly made me gulp down my food.

The her­ring gull is what we would call the typ­i­cal seag­ull and is a fa­mil­iar sight at any sea­side town, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son.

In colder months some will re­main in coastal habi­tats but oth­ers over­win­ter on farm­land, wet­land and, of course, rub­bish tips – in Wi­gan they are known as muck hawks.

Gulls can be very dif­fi­cult to tell apart, es­pe­cially im­ma­ture birds. Adult her­ring gulls are sil­very-grey above and white be­low with pink legs.

They have a white head, which is streaky dur­ing the win­ter, and black wingtips with white spots. They have a yel­low bill with a red spot, which helps chicks to recog­nise their par­ents.

While many gulls will nest on the ground, ex­pect to see some her­ring gulls us­ing rooftops of houses in sea­side re­sorts.

Any­way, de­spite all the re­cent bad pub­lic­ity, her­ring gulls suf­fered a na­tional pop­u­la­tion de­cline of 38 per cent be­tween 2000 and 2010 putting it on the Red List as a species of con­ser­va­tion con­cern.

Num­bers also fell in the 1970s due to heavy culling.

Over the same pe­riod the num­bers in the north west grew and we now have about one and a half per cent of the UK pop­u­la­tion. The in­crease was mainly in ur­ban ar­eas.

Ob­vi­ously as with all ur­ban wildlife a big rea­son for the gulls mov­ing in­land and seek­ing out hol­i­day­mak­ers is food. While fish stocks have fallen at sea it is much eas­ier to raid our bins or to grab dis­carded lunches.

While some peo­ple are say­ing that gulls are get­ting braver, there have al­ways been sto­ries about them try­ing to steal food. The in­creas­ingly bad be­hav­iour can only be at­trib­uted to our own messi­ness in dis­pos­ing of our waste.

Her­ring gulls, like many birds, are in trou­ble as num­bers de­cline. Maybe we should be look­ing at bet­ter ways of im­prov­ing our seas to pro­vide nat­u­ral food for the birds rather than de­mon­is­ing them for be­com­ing ad­dicted to our fast food lifestyles.

To sup­port the work of the Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side, text WILD09 with the amount you want to do­nate to 70070.

The Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side is ded­i­cated to the pro­tec­tion and pro­mo­tion of the wildlife in Lan­cashire, seven bor­oughs of Greater Manch­ester and four of Mersey­side, all ly­ing north of the River Mersey. It man­ages around 40 na­ture re­serves and 20 Lo­cal Na­ture Re­serves cov­er­ing acres of wood­land, wet­land, up­land and meadow. The trust has 27,000 mem­bers, and over 1,200 vol­un­teers.

To be­come a mem­ber of the trust, go to the web­site at www.lanc­swt.org.uk or call 01772 324129. For more in­for­ma­tion about Cheshire Wildlife Trust, call 01948 820728 or go to cheshirewil­dlifetrust.org. uk.

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