The Seagull Plague

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald is the former environment editor of the Irish Times, and the author of several books, including The Destruction of Dublin (1985), Saving the City (1989), and The Construction of Dublin (2000). He is also co-author of books including Chaos at the Crossroads (2005) and The Builders (2008). He was born in Dublin, graduated from UCD in 1971, joined the Irish Times in 1979 and has been a resident of the Temple Bar area since 1995.


What are we to do about all the seagulls? They seem to have taken over Dublin, with one adult gull even appearing last week inside the modern extension to Leinster House – prompting a Tweet from Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams speculating that it was an “advance party”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan raised a laugh or two last year when he said seagulls had “lost the run of themselves completely . . . They’re getting so cheeky now that they attack young children and dispossess them of their lollipops, and stuff like that”.

But it’s a serious issue. Another Fianna Fáil senator, Denis O’Donovan, blamed gulls for killing lambs and rabbits, exhibiting symptoms akin to cows with mad cow disease or rabbits with myxomatosis. “We are reaching the stage when they are endangering society,” he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a “big conversation” there on the need for a cull of seagulls after they savagely attacked and killed a Yorkshire terrier in the Cornish seaside resort of Newquay earlier in July. A pet tortoise was another victim.

Seagulls are also dominant in St Stephen’s Green, where families used to go to “feed the ducks”. Now, it’s much more likely that gulls will be the beneficiaries of stale bread thrown in the lake, given that they are much more aggressive and there are so many of them in the water.

I took a photograph recently of birds in the lake, and virtually all of them were seagulls. In the past, mallard ducks would have been the most numerous – but not anymore. A survey in 2012 by Birdwatch Ireland found that there were more seagulls than ducks in the Green.

On a December afternoon, Birdwatch surveyors recorded 100 herring gulls and 20 black-headed gulls, 101 mallards and 15 tufted ducks, seven moorhens and the same number of mute swans, plus a single heron, a single sparrowhawk and a variety of other birds, small in number.

There would be more mallards if the gulls didn’t “take” some of their cute little ducklings. A spokeswoman for the Office of Public Works (OPW), which runs the Green, said there were a “small number” of reports of such carnage, “but also of foxes and pike in the lake doing the same”.

Asked whether the OPW had any plans for a cull of seagulls, the spokeswoman pointed out that they were a “protected species”, on the “amber” list for conservation – due to “large-scale declines in their breeding numbers in recent decades”, according to a 2004 survey.

Much of this reduction – scarcely credible, given the sheer number of gulls squawking over the city – has been attributed to better management of landfill sites (through the use of falcons as a deterrent, for example) as well as rat infestations in traditional breeding areas.

“The closest breeding colonies to Dublin city would include Lambay Island, Dalkey Island and Ireland’s Eye, although it is possible that some Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls do nest in the chimneys of tall city buildings adjacent to the park,” the OPW said.

Asked by thejournal.ie whether culling could be carried out locally, a the National Parks and Wildlife Service said: “Individuals may apply to the department for a licence where seagulls are considered a nuisance” – but they should first contact a conservation ranger.

In mid-July, a poisoned seagull was dumped in the yard of a police station in Bridport, Dorset, in an apparent backlash against the birds. following a week of bad publicity for them. The RSCPA was called and is now looking after the “near-dead” seagull and its chick.

In the historic town of Devizes, hundreds of residents signed a petition complaining about “hordes of aggressive gulls blighting the town centre [and] poo-bombing homes”, according to the Daily Mail. The town then got a licence to smash more than 600 eggs on rooftops.

“Families say huge flocks of gulls nest on their rooftops in the sleepy Wiltshire market town, even though it’s nearly 50 miles from the sea,” the paper reported. Licensed pest controllers were then called in to conduct “the largest purge of seagulls ever seen in England”, it said.

It’s got to that stage in St Stephen’s Green, where vicious gulls can be observed daily snatching food offerings from the ducks. Personally, if I had a gun, I’d shoot the lot of them and restore the lake to the placid ducks, swans and water hens. And the sphinx-like lone heron, of course.

Author:

Frank McDonald: Frank McDonald is the former environment editor of the Irish Times, and the author of several books, including The Destruction of Dublin (1985), Saving the City (1989), and The Construction of Dublin (2000). He is also co-author of books including Chaos at the Crossroads (2005) and The Builders (2008). He was born in Dublin, graduated from UCD in 1971, joined the Irish Times in 1979 and has been a resident of the Temple Bar area since 1995.

Reader responses

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Stephen Coyne
at 29 July 2015 at 19:26

Hate them! And they are everywhere. It’s a function of our destruction of habitats however. Look at the average garden and how few small garden birds there are. Even sparrows. There’s hardly anywhere for them to live due to loss if trees and manicured lawns or worse concrete yards. Al you get now we’re gulls and magpies.

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