Port of Everett using dead seagulls to scare off other birds
MUKILTEO — The images are ghoulish: Dead gulls strung up with wire around their legs.
The photos were taken at a Port of Everett cargo terminal and posted to social media this week, prompting local birders to respond with outrage and disgust:
”This is sickening. Those poor birds. And anyone that would do that is seriously troubled.”
“Disturbed, disgusted and shocked.” And that is the goal. Sort of. The dead gulls were hung up at the port’s Mount Baker Terminal to scare off other birds, said Brook Zscheile, a wildlife biologist and district supervisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in Bremerton.
The Port of Everett contracts with USDA Wildlife Services Program to control damage from the birds — commonly called seagulls — at its facilities. If nothing is done, gulls will crowd the port’s piers and wharves, creating health and safety problems, and damaging property, Zscheile said.
Bird poop is the main concern. Lots of gulls make for lots of bird poop. That might seem like a petty reason to string up dead birds, but it puts waterfront workers at risk at places like the Mount Baker Terminal, where longshoremen use big machines to load and unload shipping containers and other huge cargo, most of it bound for Boeing. Slipping or being distracted at the wrong time could lead to serious injuries or even be fatal.
“People can’t work around there when they’re getting pooped on,” he said.
Decomposing bird feces also corrodes metal and wiring, causing extensive property damage and also potentially creating unsafe working conditions.
USDA workers start with softer methods, using fireworks and noisemakers to irritate the birds. But animals adapt.
“If you put up a plastic owl, it loses its effect over time,” he said. Because birds realize that the plastic owl isn’t going to eat them, “There is nothing reinforcing that it is a danger.”
Birds will even learn to fly away when they see USDA vehicles pull up and return when they leave. “That’s when you know your scare tactics aren’t working,” he said.
Hanging a dead bird drives home the message to other birds: This is a dangerous place.
“An effigy — displaying a dead bird — is technically a non-lethal method,” Zscheile said. Of course, it’s lethal for the dead bird, but it saves other birds by driving them away.
Usually the birds that get strung up are first shot at the site with a rifle. Sometimes workers bring carcasses with them. Sometimes life-size images of dead birds are printed and displayed on roofs. The effigies — real and printed — can last for a few months, depending on weather and other factors. He said he does not know the source of the birds at Mount Baker Terminal.
The gulls are killed under a federal permit and following federal rules protecting wildlife, he said. “We’re biologists. We’re not shooting endangered species” or recklessly hurting animals.
They also are not displayed in public areas. The Mount Baker Terminal is along a remote stretch of waterfront and behind a security fence. The photos posted online were taken from the water.
Clearing birds from a site is an ongoing process. “Young birds will come. They don’t know they’re not supposed to be there,” he said.
The agency has been managing gulls at ferry terminals and other locations around Puget Sound for more than a decade. The number of sites constantly varies, he said.
Not surprisingly, the program keeps a low profile. Like most bird watchers, Michael Brown didn’t know about it. The 59-yearold has been birding since he was a kid on Mercer Island.
“When I first saw the photos, I was shocked by it, and couldn’t really understand how it happened,” he said.
Crowds of gulls can cause problems for people, he said. To be fair, “we often create the conditions that attract large numbers of them,” such as waterfronts crowded with food stands and picnickers or at landfills ripe with leftovers.
Sure, they can be a nuisance, but “I also see a beautiful bird, especially the adults in full breeding plumage with bright white heads,” Brown said.