JSPCA SEAGULL FACT SHEET

Herring gulls (Larus argentatus)

Seagulls are a typical feature of coastal towns, and have existed alongside humans for many thousands of years.  Herring gulls, lesser and greater black-backed gulls nest in suburban areas and are popular with visitors to the Island and residents alike, though at times people may be concerned about their presence.

Conservation Status

Gulls are semi-colonial nesters and occasionally form large colonies of thousands of birds.  Of the species that are found in St Helier, the greater black-backed gull has the smallest UK population but all of the gulls qualify as a species of conservation concern.  The lesser black-backed gull occurs in internationally important numbers; one third of the European population nests in the UK and we have had pairs nesting in St Helier.  However, the cause of the decline in some species of Herring Gull in the UK is not yet understood, but could be as a result of a change in their marine environment, including over fishing, reductions in ‘by-catch’ or pollution.  The serious decline of all local gulls has led to them being protected by law.

Gulls, nests and the Law

Herring Gulls are protected under the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000.  This makes it illegal to intentionally injure or kill any gull or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents. The law does recognise that in some circumstances control may be necessary and action can be taken to ensure public health and safety.  This is done by licensed individuals who adhere to strict codes of conduct.  There are licensed pest control companies operating in Jersey whose services include the removal of roof-top gull nests and eggs during the breeding season.  It is likely that, under strict license, one of these will be contacted for the task of removing excessively aggressive gulls.  Do not attempt to remove gulls yourself.  Not only can this be dangerous, but it is also illegal without a license.

Food

The Herring Gull is an opportunist species that is quick to learn and ready to take advantage of a variety of food sources.   They hunt fish and other sea creatures and will take carrion, discarded food, unprotected food as well as the eggs and chicks of other seabirds.  They obtain substantial food by scavenging and are well-placed to take advantage of waste food in gardens, streets and at the rubbish tip.  In winter they will follow the plough, picking grubs, earthworms and other insects from the freshly turned earth.  Where garden bird tables are accessible, they will also dominate that food source.  Small birds and mammals also feature in the Herring Gull’s diet.

Breeding

Traditional nest sites are on the sea-cliffs, or islands and other inaccessible locations.  Gulls have also adopted roofs for nesting.  The nest is a well constructed “cup” made of twigs and other materials.  The clutch of one to four eggs is incubated by both sexes for up to thirty days.  The chicks hatch fully covered in down, and are fed by both parents.  At only a few days old the chicks leave the nest and move to the safety of nearby vegetation.  Gulls may live for twenty or more years and start to breed when three to seven years old.

Aggression

The Herring Gull may be perceived as aggressive in certain situations.  This apparent aggressiveness is often seen in areas where food is regularly and freely available.  Herring Gulls are very competitive with fellow Herring Gulls for food and for that reason may try to take food before it is thrown or discarded, for example, snatching food from a child’s hand.  Herring Gulls may also naturally protect their nests or young by performing a series of swooping dives over an intruder.  This protective aggressive behaviour generally occurs during the breeding season and only when intrusion is quite close to the nest or young.  

Discouraging gulls

Where nesting gulls are not wanted on a roof, measures to prevent them nesting may be necessary.  The most effective measures involve removing all available food and reducing the attractiveness of nest sites by using physical barriers placed on roofs.  This is not an instant solution and requires planning, the commitment of the building owner and action well ahead of the nesting season.

Plastic eagle owls, spiked roofs, covering roofs with close set wires to prevent bids from landing and even hiring falconers and their birds have been tried methods of deterrents.  All of these methods have had a certain success, but often they are costly and some have proved to be only short term deterrents.  Wire netting between or enveloping chimney pots is proving successful as a deterrent to breeding birds. 

There are a variety of gull deterrents on the market, but check their effectiveness and suitability for your property and use the services of a professional to carry out the installation.  Pest Control Specialists usually include gull nest and egg removal as part of their services.  Check the cost of the service before the work is carried out and make sure the company is both licensed and insured to do the work. 

Feeding

Feeding gulls should be strongly discouraged. In Jersey considerable effort has been taken to ensure waste food is not available.  The use of commercial Euro-bins and the Parishes insisting that waste collection containers must have lids has reduced the food availability for gulls.

Human activities such as commercial fishing, open organic refuse tipping and deliberate feeding  are all sources of food to the Gulls, but it is the act of deliberate feeding, more than any other, that had brought the Herring Gull’s name in to disrepute.   Herring Gulls learn quickly.  If hand fed, they are in competition with the other members if their flock and hence the bolder birds will take food directly from the hand.  Once such confidence is established, the next step will be to take food from the hand whether it is offered or not and the Herring Gull becomes a victim of its own learning ability.

Herring gulls are perfectly capable of finding natural foods and if they are not provided with an unnatural meal, intentionally or otherwise, they will turn eventually to a more natural source of food. 

Young birds

Gull chicks leave the nest at an early age; it is common to find a chick on the ground, having fallen from its nest.  Please leave it where it is.  The parents will continue to look after it.  If this is not possible, please contact the Environment Department  (tel: 441600) for advice.  

What you can do to help:

o Don’t throw the remains of your packed lunch to the Gulls, they have their own food sources.

o Don’t be tempted to feed any birds outside cafes, tea gardens or seaside kiosks.  

o When feeding birds in the garden, don’t throw loose bread or scraps onto the ground.  It could result in a line of noisy Herring Gulls parked on your roof permanently.  Confine bird food to wire containers or covered feeding stations.

o Place discarded takeaway remains into a litter bin, not onto the street  floor.

o Do not disturb cliff nesting gull colonies during the breeding season.

Frequently asked questions: 

My neighbour is feeding the gulls can you stop them?

Feeding gulls is not illegal.  It may however contribute to the amount of gulls nesting in that location especially if done repeatedly.  The resulting dense population of gulls may deter more desirable bird species. 

All attempts should be made to dissuade people from feeding the gulls.  Feeding on the beaches or other public land should be discouraged.

Contact the Environment Department (tel: 441600).

I have a gull nesting on my/my neighbour’s roof what should I do?

The responsibility for a nest on a roof rests with the owner of the property.  Herring Gull nests, eggs and young are all protected by the Wildlife Law.  Do not attempt to remove gulls yourself.  Not only can this be dangerous, but it is also illegal without a license.  Some pest controllers have been licensed to remove nests and eggs where appropriate and in certain circumstances chicks.  Action is best taken as soon as the nest is identified.

Call a licensed pest controller, but ask about the costs before deciding on any action.

The only long term solution may be to install protective measures on the roof.  Pest controllers also provide these services.

Contact the Environment Department (tel: 441600).

A chick has fallen out of the nest.  What should I do?

As far as possible, chicks should not be interfered with even if they have fallen from the nest.  It is not feasible to raise chicks without creating a dependent adult, unafraid of humans.  

Call a licensed pest controller, but ask about the costs before deciding on any action. 

Contact the Environment Department (tel: 441600).

A seagull attacked my child, what should I do?

Seagulls may act in a “threatening” way, either to protect their young or when collecting food.  Cafes and fast food outlets should advise caution when dispensing products for outside consumption.

Contact the Environment Department (tel: 441600).

Be alert when eating outdoors, especially in areas where gulls are resident.

If a person has a wound caused by a gull, professional medical assessment may be required. 

 

 

JSPCA working to

“prevent cruelty, promote knowledge, provide for aged, sick, lost and unwanted animals.”

 

Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Inc.)

Founded 1868 – Incorporated 1936

89 St Saviour’s Road, St Helier, Jersey JE2 4GJ         

Tel: 01534 724331          Fax: 01534 871797

E-mail: info@jspca.org.je          Website: www.jspca.org.je

 

References and further reading: