Just live and let fly!
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.
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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.
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