It may not seem like it when gulls are swooping down trying to steal your chips, but the number of many species of gulls has plummeted.
In fact, herring gulls and kittiwakes are on the red list of conservation concern in the UK, with many other types of gull on the amber list.
So why does it seem as if there are more gulls than ever? It’s likely to be because their food sources have dried up in some areas and – opportunistic and clever birds that they are – they have found our cities and towns to be full of food along with great nesting spots on roofs.
What do gulls eat? Just about anything: small fish, snails, insects, spiders, eggs – and, of course, rubbish. If you leave it out, they will come. They’re quite handy for cleaning up our beaches, but as their favourite grub of small fish has become harder to find, they’ll settle for our garbage.
There’s even the famous Aberdeen gull who shoplifted about 20 bags of crisps. (It’s worth a look at the video clip if you haven’t seen the footage before.)
Why are seagulls sometimes nowhere near the sea?
Black-headed gulls, the type of gull we often see in our towns and cities, are much more comfortable inland. Herring gulls are perhaps the gull that is most often called a ‘seagull,’ and you can see them in all of Scotland’s coastal towns.
Have you ever watched gulls fly? They are amazingly agile fliers and well worth watching. Their webbed feet mean they are also at home on the water. Seagulls are also quite clever. They are known to stamp their feet to imitate rainfall to trick earthworms into coming to the surface (this is known as foot-paddling). They also drop mussels onto rocks or road surfaces to break them open in order to eat them.
But some people see gulls as a plague in our cities and towns. Let’s take Aberdeen City as an example. It’s estimated that there are 3,500 pairs of herring gulls nesting in Aberdeen City every year. They are a regular source of complaint to the council, as in many other towns and cities, because of noise, their tendency to get into rubbish containers, as well as aggressive behaviour during nesting and while rearing chicks (from about May to August).
Although gulls are amazing birds, we do know they can sometimes cause problems. All breeding birds are protected by law, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do when problems arise. Gulls in towns generally use roofs for nesting and tend to return year after year. We recommend that people look for ways to prevent gulls from nesting in certain places to avoid problems in future years. You should also avoid feeding gulls and make sure that you dispose of all food scraps and litter carefully, so that gulls can’t get to them. Black plastic bin-bags are an open invitation to a hungry gull.
In certain cases you may be able to control gulls or their nests – for example, if gulls are affecting public health and safety. To find out more, see SNH’s bird licensing information.
So we don’t end on that negative note for our feathered friends, check out these amazing gull facts:
- Gulls are attentive parents. They pair for life and take turns incubating the eggs, feeding and protecting the chicks.
- Some species of gulls can live for over 30 years.
- Like other marine birds, gulls can drink both fresh and salt water. Gulls have a special pair of glands above their eyes specifically designed to flush the salt from their systems through openings in the bill.