I don't like the beady-eyed things either, but... In defence of Sunderland's seagulls
“They need their wings clipped.”
“No. Just cull them.”
“Culling’s too good for them. They should …”
And so on. We refer, of course, to the perennial hot topic in coastal areas such as Sunderland: seagulls.
They aren’t the most popular creatures. They can be quite intimidating and have a wingspan of up to five feet.
They have cynical beady eyes and cruel beaks. Their piercing squawk is not one of nature’s jollier sounds and can deprive humans of sleep.
So they don’t excel at PR. But their unpopularity stems mainly from their fearless attacks upon humans and pets. They can cause injuries and take our lunches.
A Yorkshire terrier in Cornwall was recently killed by a seagull. Cats are regularly intimidated.
Last week we reported how scientists at Exeter University reckon staring at seagulls will stop them from taking your food. I respectfully suggest that scientists at the University of Seaburn would reach a different conclusion. Seagulls in Sunderland are fearless.
But… The response to antisocial seagulls is often wildly disproportionate; not least in the media. There was a particularly hysterical headline in the Daily Mirror in 2015, describing seagulls as: “Britain’s New Public Enemy No1.”
Really? The notion that a gull cull should be sanctioned because one of them grabbed your corned beef pasty is not letting the punishment fit the crime.
That’s if indeed it is a crime. We regularly read stories about “cheeky seagulls stealing from bakers.” The word “stealing” implies that they’re expected to pay. They don’t carry credit cards. They don’t even have pockets.
Seagulls are kleptoparasites, which is a zoological way of saying that they’ll nick your chips - if you let them.
It turns out that they’re wild animals. They’re intelligent and adaptable too. So what did anyone expect?
The poor terrier in Cornwall was seen as a threat to the nest by the gull who made it. Seagulls forage more aggressively at this time of year because their chicks hatch in June and they’re desperate to fatten the little ‘uns up before winter.
Animals are like that. We might not like their behaviour, but there’s an odd tendency from some humans to take it personally.
It’s nature. Our beloved domestic cats, that we wish to protect from seagulls, kill 27million songbirds in the UK each year, just because they enjoy it. Cat cull anyone?
What to do then? We can’t cull gulls them even if we wanted to. Technically there’s no such thing as a seagull. What we’re referring to are herring gulls (Larus argentatus) and they’re protected by law.
They’re easy to find on Wearside. But the RSPB say their numbers are declining and are an endangered species globally.
They aren’t becoming more aggressive, brazen or opportunistic. Humans are effectively inviting them.
According to C Gibbons’ 1991 page-turner Herring Gulls in Sunderland: “The numbers of herring gulls frequenting the town centre in summer exceeded, by up to three-fold, the expected number based on immediate local breeding numbers.”
In other words, they’re attracted to human settlements. We all know why.
If we didn’t drop litter - or deliberately feed them - they would be forced to eat fish and insects, as they did in the 30million years before humans invented the sausage roll.
Seagulls are a problem. But nothing like as big a problem as nincompoops who are too lazy to use a bin.