Terror at the seaside: we all get hysterical about gulls

Let’s talk about wild beasts. Specifically, let’s talk about gulls, since they’ve been in the news here lately. They’re vicious creatures who dive bomb innocent civilians and steal their ice cream cones. Visit to the coast and you’re gambling with your life and your sanity. I’m exaggerating, but at least I admit it.

Yes, friends, the British press is getting hysterical again, so let’s settle for just one link. Enough is plenty.

A rare relevant photo, although it's from Belgium, not Cornwall. From Wikimedia, by Loki11.

A rare relevant photo, although it’s from Belgium, not Cornwall. From Wikimedia, by Loki11.

Before I tell you the terrible tales, I should let you know what I’ve learned about gulls:

They’re not really called seagulls. They’re gulls, and since we’ve already irresponsibly established that they’re vicious we don’t want to make ‘em mad, so we’ll call them what they want to be called. If you don’t believe me that they don’t like being called seagulls, just ask one.

If you dare.

According to Wikipedia, they’re “of the family Laridae in the sub-order Lari. . . . An older name for gulls is mew . . . This term can still be found in certain regional dialects.”  That, irrelevantly, explains a song that mentions seamews. I always wondered what they were. Play nice or I’ll sing it to you.

But back to gulls. (Nice birdy. I’m leaving part of my sandwich right here for you. Leave the finger. I need that.) There have been some incidents, and as usual if they happened to me I wouldn’t be happy about them, but I don’t know how new, or newsworthy, any of this is.

In the most serious incidents, a small dog—a yorkie, a breed that can get so small they’re not really big enough to be dogs—was killed by gulls and a tortoise was ditto. With those two things at the top of the page to draw our eye, column inches have been devoted to cafes and take-away joints trying to protect their customers (and their food) from birds and to children and adults being frightened, and occasionally hurt, by the birds.

Ever since I moved here, I’ve been reading about problems with gulls, or seeing segments on the local news. Or protecting my scones from them. Cornwall’s full of seaside towns and villages, and seaside towns and villages are full of summer visitors, and with the visitors come picnics and ice creams and chips (those are french fries if you’re on the left-hand side of the Atlantic) and so on. And gulls are nothing if not scavengers. If food’s around, they want to know about it. As a result, in some places they now nest on roofs instead of (or more likely, in addition to) the rocky offshore islands they used to like. I seem to remember hearing about a street where the letter carrier refused to deliver mail after getting swooped on once too often. That was a few years ago, then the story disappeared and we never found out what, if anything, got done.

Oddly enough, although gulls sit around on our roof and our neighbors, they don’t do anything more right here than yell and get into the garbage if a fox has already torn the bag open. As far as I know, they don’t even tear the bags themselves, although I can’t swear to that.

In response to this latest flap, the prime minister, David Cameron, has pontificated—sorry, announced that we need to have a big discussion on the subject. He’s counting on the subject disappearing with the summer leaves before he has to figure out needs to be said in the discussion, never mind what has to be done–or worse, have to spend money on it. Should we kill all the gulls? Shut down the seaside? Issue visitors with plastic bubbles?

Saint Ives used to cull gulls and use birds of prey to keep them from nesting. They also had a van driving around town playing loud noises to scare them off. What the van did to the tourists, I don’t know. I wouldn’t think they’d be crazy about loud noises themselves. It probably kept them from nesting on the roofs too.

The thing is, all of that is expensive. A cull costs £10,000. We’re in an age of austerity. That it’s artificially induced (in my not particularly popular opinion) is beside the point. Local governments are having to choose between libraries and leisure centers and then realizing  that they can’t afford either. So St. Ives is trying flapping colored flags. I don’t know how well that’ll work on gulls, but I tried flapping computer disks to keep the birds (blackbirds, I think) off my raspberries. After the first day or two, they were onto my tricks. They not only ate the berries, they set up their laptops on the outside table.

Truro is trying paint that reflects the sun’s UV rays. My guess is that we’ll be seeing gulls with sunglasses in the center of town.

When this first came out, I heard a scientist interviewed on the BBC’s Radio 4. He’d designed a study of urban gulls with an eye toward finding a solution to the problems they present. Embarrassingly enough–not for him but the the government–it was first funded but then defunded before it ever got going. It’s an age of austerity. We can’t afford that sort of frippery until everyone gets hysterical and starts yelling that someone had better do something. Even if it’s random and ineffective.

109 thoughts on “Terror at the seaside: we all get hysterical about gulls

  1. Herring Gulls (the really big ones with evil beaks) are the worst…but I have never really been attacked by one.

    Not that it is much of a problem in Sussex…well..actually it probably is, on the edge bits of Sussex like Brighton but I presume the gulls don’t like Brighton much because of all the hipsters…

    Maybe if I start shouting loudly something will be done about the Hipster infestation…

    I once got dive-bombed by a pigeon, but that was in Belgium…so if you picture is anything to go by, birds are more of a problem on the continent!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They are interesting creatures. We have nice romantic notions of gulls crying and circling in a beautiful sky. Nothing wrong with that. But they are scavengers as well and are pretty ruthless and will even attack and kill each other to get food.
    A bit like us really. Don’t know how to stop them interfering with human activity. I like the flapping flags idea and the paint. Gull culls not such a good idea. All the best.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t like them snatching my food, and I’d hate to have them attacking my cats or dog, but we do all need to keep in mind that they’re simply animals doing what they do. They’re scavengers, so they scavenge. We expect the world to be arranged for our convenience and get outraged–and surprised–when it isn’t.


  3. But but… Gulls are cute creatures that… DANCE! Yup, they dance to mimic the sound of rain hitting the soil, which then confuses tasty worms… who come up to see what’s going on… and get gobbled by the gulls! Here’s a link to a Youtube clip:

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The Afrikaans for “gull” is “meeu”, pronounced the same as “mew” but with the vowel sound stretched out. Apparently our languages share a common root here.

    If you ask me, people should just stop feeding the gulls. Because people do that. It’s great fun to hold a potato chip in your hand and have a gull swoop down and snatch it from your fingers. Until the gull grabs your finger, or decides the chips in your plate are also fair game. If we stop teaching them to associate people with food they’ll stop being a menace. It’s the same principle as don’t feed the bears/raccoons/monkeys/baboons (depending on where you are).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I own a property in St Ives and we visit a number of times each year. I have been dive bombed by gulls trying to steal my ice-cream or pasty, and sometimes they succeed. However, humans are to blame. People leave waste food and food wrappers all over the place and birds (and rats) soon learn how to obtain food. The gulls can be a problem, but we humans need to change our sloppy behaviour.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. You have gulls, we have raccoons. We are in a constant battle against nature and as we all know, nature is RELENTLESS!
    At least our raccoons don’t attack people – although they can get a bit aggressive sometimes. They *simply* get into garbage and cause property damage … and like gulls, poo where it’s not welcome ;)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I was hearing about this on Radio 4 when I was in the UK (might have been the same interview actually) and it struck me as a diversionary tactic. If Cameron, Osborne et al make such a big fuss over the issue of gulls, it might just stop everyone remembering that what they actually want to cull are the poor and the elderly.

    I’ve had run ins with gulls. I know they can be a pest. They’ve intimidated me out of outdoor eating. One fractured my cat’s skull in an unprovoked attack. But I think libraries, leisure centres and other community facilities are of far greater importance and much more deserving of funding than dealing with gangs of birds.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. The last time I was in St Mawes (it was a while ago) there was a ‘polite request’ that food not be taken down on to the beach to avoid attracting gulls. Not sure the gulls (or the people) took much notice. We’ve a big problem in Scarborough and Whitby with gulls picking off small dogs from back gardens … where’s Alfred Hitchcock when you need him (or a man with a gun and a good aim!). The poop they share around is no fun either …

    Liked by 2 people

    • If it makes you feel any more warmly toward them, they’re good parents, not just defending their chicks but bringing them shells to play with. On the other hand, they’re terrible neighbors and will eat other gulls’ chicks.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Random and ineffective might be better than a government-funded solution that would be precisely targeted and ill-effective i.e. causing more harm than good. And, thanks so much for mentioning “Saint Ives” so that I have the whole “seven wives, each wife had seven cats…”mini-saga stuck in my head. Have a nice weekend :)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Oh my. I do not feed the gulls, ever. They are pushy here, too, but not like that, or at least, not that often. That being said, I wouldn’t advise carrying a handful of food at the beach…

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I spent a few weeks photographing gull families, two on fishing boats and two on restaurant rooftops, a few years ago. The youngsters are white with black polka dots–very cute. One set of parents hated me. They would spot me as I got out of my car and mom or dad would attack, swooping over me and emitting gull curses. Another set of parents thought I was just fine and seemed to shove their chick at me so I got macro portraits while mom and dad puffed their chests out. Also, I taught at a junior hi 100 miles from the sea. Our custodian fed the lunch leftovers to the gulls and we soon had more gulls than students and, when they got excited, they could drown out the sounds of instruction in the classrooms. Of course, during this time the roof of the lunchroom and the sidewalks turned an ugly shade of white.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I love the sound of gulls, sea lions, fog horns and waves. It means I live by the sea after 27 years inland. I also liked the gulls near The Mumbles in Wales. They’re smaller and sound like they are having a good old gossip when chattering among themselves. Of course the solution to the gull problem is closed trash cans and humans not leaving their food trash around. The fishermen here consider them the clean up crew and know they have their place. Here’s some pics of gull families: https://goo.gl/photos/9E8fJ6Ehddot6ciS6

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I think Rhys Jones hit on the answer–or at least part of it–in his comment about litter attracting them. As I think of the places where they’re not a problem, I can’t remember seeing food left in the open. Trust us to leave litter around and then blame the birds for responding to it in ways we don’t like.


  13. Our local football team (Brighton & Hove Albion) are called “The Seagulls”. I wonder if a man (or woman) dressed in a big seagull costume running along the seafront would frighten the gulls away? I’ve only once been pooped on by a seagull, but that night I won £25 on the lottery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The team came up when, in the name of research, I punched I don’t remember what involving gulls into Google. I gave a bit of thought to whether I could work it into the post but gave up. I have a sports allergy. I know zilch about football–American or otherwise.

      I’m not sure how well that giant seagull idea would work. I have a picture in my head of the gulls laughing so hard they can’t fly, but I’m not going to try to pass that off as a prediction.

      Congratulations on the lottery win. Now if it had been that giant seagull, think how much you’d have taken home….

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I think you’ve nailed the explanation. We don’t have much of a gull problem, though there must be thousands of them along the beaches, but for some unknown reason there isn’t much of a litter problem either. The one spot where folks seem to go to feed the gulls has huge numbers of them hanging around, but they don’t get aggressive unless you start out feeding one. Then the entire flock descends. Perhaps being attacked by these hordes of gulls discourages the idiots (sorry, persons) who think feeding them is clever or fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m still traumatised from having a gull snatch a pasty out of my hand in Mevagissy (in 1996).
    Here in North Wales our local councils are talking about fining people who feed gulls. But I’m not sure how they will differentiate between the people who feed them deliberately or the ones who are unlucky to be mugged for their haddock and chips (and the paper it came in).
    See the gulls up here run a scam. They land in front of a likely looking person (or couple) with food. They stand on one leg and look pathetic or they put two legs down, but limp. They keep one eye on the food as they sidle up to you (like the childrens game – it might be ‘Statues’ – who cares). You look away, then look again and they’re closer – like something out of Dr Who. You admire the view for a minute, then the gull snatches your dinner and flies off, laughing.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My god this topic elicits conversation!
    Part of my vision for my future involves unnlimited bowls of cat food at my front door, regular trips to the deep woods with backpacks of snickers bars ( for the bears ), fresh burger and steaks left at alligator alley, and daily trips to the beach with lots and lots of food for the gulls.
    Ahhhh, to be trully despised.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of the things I learned as an editor and am relearning as a blogger is that I can’t predict what’ll get people going. I had no idea this one would, and I can’t really explain why it happens.

      Before you head out with that backpack full of snickers bars, do make sure that bears can eat chocolate. I know it’s poisonous for dogs, and not good for cats either. Unless you plan to poison the bears so you can add an extra swath of people to the list of despisers.


      • So, I will surely look into the health effects of chocolate upon bears before I begin on this course of action. If I find that it is harmless, then nobody can fault me for feeding the bears. If chocolate turns out to be harmfull, then I have heard that bears enjoy beer. And I just looked and my state does not issue drivers permits to bears.
        My plans for my retirement years are coming together!

        Liked by 1 person

          • Do you know, I realized that this idea has been brewing for a long time. I looked back in a book of photos and found a sign that I painted in 2003 ( I think that I sold it in a gallery in California ) that talks about feeding wild animals.
            So I posted a photo of the sign on my blog.
            Do you think that I will first be lynched by the mob, devoured by the bears, or carried off by the gulls? Either way, I will go out in style. And I don’t need to save up any money at all for such a short retirement.

            Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not so sure I trust them with it. What if they–. Wait a minute. What is that we’re afraid will happen when someone piggybacks on your wifi? Whatever it is, they’d do it. I just know they would. I’m putting an extra seven passwords on it right now.


  17. The Gulls at Margate FC sit on top of the burger bar waiting to pounce on the unwary. A fight over chips between a Lesser-Black Backed and Margate Blue could be an interesting spectacle – probably be a main event to overshadow the football on the pitch.

    The BTO publish the Bird Atlas giving the distribution of the UK’s species. In the summer, the Gulls flock to the seaside at the same time as the Humans – hence a conflict of interests ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d be tempted to buy an extra order of chips, throw it in the opposite direction, then gobble my own. Which goes against everything everyone’s said (and I’ve agreed with) about not feeding them and not leaving garbage lying around.


  18. D’you know what, Ellen? Gulls remind me a lot of the present government: they’re loud, vulgar, attack the weak, squat on our very housetops watching our every move, and they’re opportunistic. Hey, I’d back a cull of the current government as well!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Poor gulls! The gulls here in my fishing village in Sicily are immaculately well-behaved and docile as anything, because the fishermen throw them masses of fish guts to eat every day. They are stuffed, and probably fly about purely to combat obesity.
    So what I want to know is, what are the English doing with their fish guts? We do enough fishing, that’s for sure. All we have to do is feed these poor gulls instead of taunting them with our fishy-smelling loot from the local chippie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The problem may be that the seas around here have been too heavily fished and the fishing fleet isn’t what it used to be. Everyone’s had to look for other work–including the gulls.


  20. You have an engaged community! I know Porter Girl, Chris White, Ellen Hawley…
    Your picture and headline were awesome! Nice to meet you.
    Thanks for coming to the Inspire Me Monday Linky party. I am Janice, one of your hostesses.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I’m sitting in a cottage by the sea in Maine (US), listening to the gulls cry. I grew up near the water and love the sound of them, love to watch them fly, fish, land.

    They don’t seem to be much of a problem here, even in the towns as far as I’ve heard. Which makes me think it is more the people who offer the food, or don’t clean up after themselves.

    The world actually needs scavengers — they clean up after us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • They do–and we’re not very good at cleaning up after ourselves. But we do seem to have a love/hate relationship with them–not just gulls but all the scavengers we attract, who then proceed to act like, well, scavengers. Which offends us. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

    • In places they’re a real menace and in others they’re no problem at all. The going theory in the comment section is that it has to do with how much food-trash we leave lying around.

      But they are beautiful birds.

      Liked by 1 person

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