Hawks and eagles patrol Sunderland to ward off gulls

Beth Elsender with Harris Hawk Aristotle in Mowbray Park

Beth Elsender with Harris Hawk Aristotle in Mowbray Park

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Beautiful birds of prey have been spreading their wings in Sunderland to help deter city seagulls.

Hawks and eagles have been patrolling Mowbray Park this summer as part of a new Sunderland City Council initiative to tackle the city’s gull problem.

Sunderland City Councillors Ellen Ball and Michael Mordey are introduced to Eagle Owl Wingnut and handler Stuart Laidler in Mowbray Park

Sunderland City Councillors Ellen Ball and Michael Mordey are introduced to Eagle Owl Wingnut and handler Stuart Laidler in Mowbray Park

The pilot project has seen Durham company ‘Eagle Enterpirses Ltd.’ joined forces with the council to have bird handlers patrol the park daily during the summer.

The impressive birds include an European Eagle Owl; Red Tailed Buzzard and a Harris Hawk, who have been a hit with visitors delighted to see Male Harris Hawk ‘Tottle’ and Eagle Owl ‘Wingnut.’

It is understood to be the first time that raptor patrols have been tried in the region to ward of seagulls.

Coun Ellen Ball is chair of the councils East Area Committee that oversees the Doxford; Hendon; Millfield; Ryhope and St Michael’s wards. It has given the permissions for regular raptor patrols.

Sunderland City Councillors Ellen Ball and Michael Mordey are introduced to Eagle Owl Wingnut and handler Stuart Laidler in Mowbray Park

Sunderland City Councillors Ellen Ball and Michael Mordey are introduced to Eagle Owl Wingnut and handler Stuart Laidler in Mowbray Park

“The gulls are a protected species but they can be a nuisance for a lot of people and visitors,” Coun Ball said.

“The gulls were a problem attacking people and other birds.

“I would say there were hundreds of gulls in the park before this initiative and they would swoop down on people.

“There has always been a problem in the park with gulls and in the last couple of years it has got worse and worse.

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park

“We need to stop feeding them as this encourages them.

“We decided to do something about the birds especially in the six weeks holidays as children love coming to the park, but many are frightened of the big birds.

“They are aggressive -that’s the thing.

“It;s when they breed -they will do anything to protect their young as any mother would.”

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park

Under the scheme handlers Stuart Laidler and Beth Elsender are completing shifts of patrols in the park with the raptors to ward off the pesky birds which regularly divebomb the public and have been known to snatch food from people’s hands.

The patrols will run until the end of the summer before councillors come together in October to discuss the success of the scheme and vote on running it annually during tourist season.

Stuart Laidler said the company was in talks with the council about the scheme back in February and were delighted to get on board.

He said there has already been a difference in reducing the number of gulls.

“Our raptors gave been on a combination of ‘foot patrols’ where birds are carried in full view in order to deter gulls or we do ‘free flights’, ” he said.

“For the flights, the raptors are over-conditioned and they are technically not hungry.

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park

“All the actions are a humane deterrent and not intended for the gulls to be attacked or harmed.

“it’s been a interesting few weeks helping deter the gulls and visitors to the park get to learn more about our hawks and eagles.”

Coun Michael Mordey, portfolio holder of city services, said the hawks and eagles can also provide an educational tourist attraction enticing people to the award-winning park.

“I think its fantastic, as people complain a lot about the seagulls,” he said.

“They can be aggressive and a nuisance.

“When the weather is nice and people want to visit a nice city centre attraction such as Mowbray Park, it’s a shame that it can be spoilt by the gulls.

“I know a lot of residents traders and visitors who will be pleased to hear these hawks and eagles are making a difference.

“It’s the first time we have done anything like this and I think its something that could be looked fat favourably next year too.”

The council started the patrols on July 18 and they will run until Sunday August 30.

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park

Eagle Owl Wingnut in Mowbray Park