For the Love of Gulls!If I were writing internet inverted style, I guess I would start by telling you that this blog will be "PACKED WITH SHIT YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT SEAGULLS!" Or maybe "An insightful look into the fascinating world of the Killer Gull", or how it might be "Littered with amazing, EXCLUSIVE TIPS on how to peacefully co-exist with these modern-day dinosaurs", or something like that, hook ye in. Maybe..
GIZMO FOUND!!!Except that would be plain untruth. Gizmo is gone. Get over it.
Image of what looks like "Seagull"* attacking human, bonus if there's breasts that aren't bird, all set. But that's not my style. I'll just start like this..
I am fortunate.
For one, I live in the top floor of highest building in the vicinity, in the Sea Gull Capital of the World: Aberdeen, Scotland. Think about it.
Directly outside any of my windows (Dormers, of course), and right up above me on my bird-friendly roof, are nesting sea gulls; mostly Herring Gulls (aka. "Silver Gulls"; quite appropriate for Aberdeen). These could well be the noisiest birds on the planet, with a vast repertoire of rambunctious calls. When they start up that Long Call together.. Well, forget listening to some light classical music! The sound of gulls is basically my life's main backing-track.
And, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, they squawk and hoot and bang and scarper about my roof (there are claws on those feet), swoop past my windows and shit just about everywhere - our building is overflowing with flora; roof, gutters, kerbs, chimney stacks, window ledges; a veritable house-wide window-box; fertilised by an unending supply of fresh, prime guano.
But they don't shit on my actual windows because gulls are smart as paint and these local gulls, some maybe thirty years old1, nesting on these same chimney stacks year after year; around us humans; seem to know one thing to be true..
I FUCKING LOVE GULLS!
And to watch them and listen to them and spend a good deal of time at the kitchen window doing exactly that. I move my tasks (and guests) there for that purpose. Also, the light is good.
anthropomorphise such confident, aggressive beasts; these cheeky masters of opportunity. And that, in itself, may be a big part of the problem.
Make no mistake, sea gulls are bad-ass. These adapted dinosaurs are brazen enough to swoop in and take the food right out of your hand, even your mouth; bold enough to snatch one of those stupidly small toy dogs right out of your back garden!2 3 [the anthropomorphising is intentional, just wait]
When their chicks are about, gulls are killing machines. Get near the nest and you'll see what I mean. Dive-bombing, flocking and deadly-accurate shitting is just the entree. Touch a nest or a chick for the main course!
But Hey! Come on people! They are protecting their young! That's parenting 101! Be impressed, in awe even. But angry? I have no words. These incredibly adaptable creatures see our man-made cliffs, perches and easy food sources as exactly what their natural instincts tell them they can be: home. To destroy their habitats, steal their food and then deny them a spot on our rooftops seems a bit shoddy to me. They have adapted perfectly, why can't we?
Gulls can drink fresh water or salt water! Consider the possibilities! They have molecular salt-filtering glands above their eyes, which by the way can see into Ultra-Violet. I kid you not! These guys live decades, mate for life (unless mating is unsuccessful, in which case they understandably re-start dating), and have a fascinatingly complex language which we barely understand. It's all around me, all day, all night. I love it! It invokes feelings of carefree childhood moments. But a lifetime around gulls and I don't even have a handle on the basics of what they are actually saying all the time. I hadn't really been listening closely before, perhaps because I hadn't previously had such a great view.
Their flight-paths surround me; they swoop right past our open windows, their bellies sometimes mere inches from the outstretched panes. This is one way I mark our territory. This is vital when you live with gulls. Gulls respect territory.
I cleaned the windows to spotless a month ago and they are still clean, spotted only by rain. If you are reading this blog and live with gulls this advice could save you and your family a lot of torment (and cleaning!).
Which is to say, if you are shut-ins who don't throw your windows wide and make use of your space; your garden if you have one; then the gulls will. So don't be getting annoyed when your occasional "access" encroaches on what is now clearly their territory. Think like a gull and save yourselves some pain! Let them hear you singing loudly in your home. I am not joking.
They swoop past us all the time, but never threatening; simply coming and going, mainly to our wonderfully high chimney stack or the roof. I wouldn't feed them, that's mad. I'd prefer they dine from their own preferred sources; farms, landfill sites and best of all, the sea and its shore; something they in fact travel thousands of miles doing every season, taking turns to guard the young. Here in Aberdeen they breed in their thousands and dominate the skies all year round. So if you like gulls, there is always something to see.
So, I love gulls.
But that isn't the point of this blog. The point of this blog is..
Hey! People! Leave Them Gulls Alone!
Yes, I realise that's poor English, I was paraphrasing Pink Floyd. Smart people would know that, and smart people shouldn't need to hear this next message, at all.
People! For starters, they were here first. It is Mankind who came along and displaced, well, everything. But more specifically when we fished our seas bare and started dumping massive piles of waste into landfill sites.
Sea gulls moved inland en masse right after the law banning burning landfill came into force in the fifties - coincidence? Hmm.
Sure, burning waste is bad news, but the problem was and sadly still is the creation of waste. Like most sticky-plaster type solutions, it simply created a second "problem", if that's how you see the urbanisation of gulls.
You can hate "seagulls" all you like. You can post that ignorant tripe all over the internet if you want, but you must not do, under any circumstances, ever, is physically hurt gulls. I am not going to post links to horror stories, or even recount some of my own; I don't want to think about it - for a wee while it makes me ashamed to be human. Also, it's against the law. And in this case, with damned good reason.
Our inland sea gulls are beautiful, majestic creature forced to take refuge in a hazardous man-made environment. They are refugees doing the best they can. Believe it or not, UK gull populations are in decline and the Herring Gull population has been hit especially hard. Don't get me wrong; I'd prefer not to be awoken at 4am by some gull the size of a spaniel banging a pigeon to death directly above my head, or maybe it was a pie; either way, it sure is damned noisy and sure is NOT the gull's "fault". Only humans are capable of "faults".
I might be temporarily upset (in the true sense of the word), but no way could I extrapolate my emotional response to any number of such events into a "hatred" of wild animals. That's fucking barmy! I shake my head into wakefulness, have a laugh, a coffee, write a poem or something. Sheesh! Y'all sleep so much!
Now that I think about it, if it wasn't for those big loud metal monsters running about down on the ground, Mr. Gull would probably feel perfectly safe doing his food preparation there. Strike two for the gulls! I am ever mindful that WE are the invaders. WE are the parasites that have near-destroyed this planet in our overpopulation and greed for power and dominion. I am humbled by nature resisting the urge to wipe us the fuck out.
For humans, that's a choice. And true, our decisions may be more complex than those of a gull, but that doesn't make us any smarter. I've never seen a dumb gull; not so humans. I've seen gulls do stupid-looking things, but that's just a human seeing human-in-everything. Doing stupid-looking stuff is not the same as being stupid, or even acting stupid.
I accept that gull females go nuts for regurgitated food. The behaviour is too absurd; by our standards; to judge at all; that's "nature". But a gull with a Starbucks cup on its head or swallowing a rabbit in one go is right there in that uncanny valley overlap of human-animal possible behaviour, and I am perfectly fine with thinking that this particular intelligent, majestic bird currently looks like a right twat, or even a monster. He's certainly not alone.
For the record, a sea gull has only ever once taken food from me, that I can remember, and I was very young. When you are brought up with gulls everywhere, you quickly learn useful body language, which basically says "This is my food and you will not take it". (essentially, look the gulls in the eye, then hold and eat your food inside your protective "circle") When I eat in public, gulls keep a respectful distance. I don't wave my food about and say, "Hey! Come get it!", because you have now given it away, in gull-language, and the fact you then ignorantly proceed to put the thing in your mouth is neither here nor there; simply a question of flying prowess; mathematics in motion; a two-year-old could do it. He doesn't need to be "brazen" or "bold" or any human emotion - to him you are simply a big animal that often likes to give away food with a swinging motion.
Of course they have many times taken food in fairly close proximity to me, from friends, acquaintances and even a couple of times from my kids, and each and every time it was utterly hilarious, even when a old girlfriend of mine lost a chunk of hand-flesh to a young gull's mis-timed sausage-roll attack (I told her that garbage would kill her!) and spent the next three minutes leaping about the pier shouting FUCK! FUCK! FUCKING BASTARD! at the top of her voice, much to the consternation of the other sun-bathers, especially the scowly mother and father sun-bathers.
You get a whack, you get a scar, you learn. That is life! Innit? Or maybe you don't learn and go make the same mistake again. And again. This is mostly how humans roll with gulls.
The main trouble with Gulls, is how we perceive them. Sadly, the public's perception of so much is shaped by the popular press. And mostly, the popular press is composed of fucktards. Every time I read an article about the "Seagull Menace" I have an almost overwhelming urge to shout at the top of my voice..
SEA GULLS ARE NOT HUMANS!
I sometimes add "FOOL!" to the end, in my mind, or other words. It's absurd!4 You read about Sea Gulls' "antisocial behaviour", about them "invading" our territories and "stealing" our food. HELLO! Gulls are wild animals! They are absolutely doing what they are supposed to be doing in their circumstances. Are you?
In short, we brought sea gulls into the cities and then demonise them for doing exactly what we forced them to do. In individuals, this sort of insanity is not an issue (I've known a few) but en masse, it can seriously threaten entire populations of not only gulls but humans. When people are too scared to leave their home for fear of being "attacked by gulls", clearly something is very wrong with those people.
I am proud of Aberdeen gulls; their size (some are bigger than yer dug, aye!) their cockiness, their well-deserved reputation as brazen shop-lifters. The ubiquitous Herring Gulls, the Great Black-Backed and Lesser Black-Backed and of course Black-Headed Gulls that grace us with their presence are an important part of our city's culture. Folk say Aberdonians are tight, but you do realise that's always been just a joke, like calling big dudes "tiny", right? We get good deals, aye, but also few peoples are more generous. Especially to gulls. Aberdeen's waste output supports a huge population.
Yes, there are humane ways to keep them off your buildings, if you really must. A whole city could, with some investment, move an entire gull population away from it's rooftops. But it does make the rooftops ugly, or red and in Aberdeen at least, we don't much bother. When most of your architecture is granite, you don't worry about, well, anything except direct hits from bombs. Gull damage is nothing a bit of pointing won't sort out. But lesser-bricked cities shouldn't need to start locking up their old grannies for sharing the odd ham sandwich on the beach. There has to be a better way to tackle the sea gull "problem".
A "Ringed" Bird. This is one of Gull Girl's T-Birds.
For starters, the gulls would have a better diet; not eating our rubbish. I mean, half of the shit in our food is poisonous to us; everything from mind-altering, mood-altering additives to toxic carcinogens; who knows what it's doing to the gulls. Maybe "Psycho Killer Gulls" could become a thing. Maybe the next E-whatever-flavour-enhancer triggers some ancient Quetzalcoatlus response and the sight of Herring Gulls swallowing human babies whole will become commonplace. I can imagine the headlines. We don't want this.
The first step then, is to stop creating so much damned waste.
I am regularly dismayed by how much of my shopping's packaging is still not recyclable (LIDL!), but that's another story6. At least a bin full of crazy half-plastic-half-paper bread bags is preferable to stuffing it with food. That's what composting is for! And if you don't have a garden/veranda, get a worm bin or two (your plants will LOVE you for this) and if for some reason a worm bin isn't possible (it really is), there's probably a food recycling service in your locale, where they collect food waste and compost it for sale. Fantastic idea! And in most places in the UK, FREE. Syat.
But most problematic is the incredible amount of waste that most families (and businesses) produce in the first place. This is a big reason why recycling strategies often fail. I can preach all day about how to recycle and compost because there is, for me, simply less waste to deal with. We take best-before dates with a pinch of salt and trust our senses when our management slips and leaves a pile of old blueberries in the fridge (fantasy, that one - blueberries rarely last more than a day!). Most importantly, we buy no more food than we will actually eat. Our bin is mainly composed of un-recyclable packaging. But out on the streets, the bins are full of food! Want rid of the gulls; it's simple...
Don't feed the Pteranadonians!
If everyone halved their waste, recycled and composted/food-binned properly and stopped dropping food all over the streets the gulls would be far less inclined to hang around. Also, local councils could divert some of those huge waste-collection and processing resources into more productive ventures, or My God even reduce your council tax bill (more fantasy!).
Hate ignorance, not gulls!I'm not going to argue with someone who "Hates Seagulls". You are simply wrong on every level my friend and need something other than an argument.
We just don't know, but it sure is fun figuring out.
This is my first season at this location and so far I've learned and re-learned a huge amount about these beautiful, noble creatures. I hope for many more. I certainly don't mind sleeping with ear-plugs in - a small price to pay - it's not like we're actually using the roof.
For me, the gull's almost ceaseless calls, hoots, chants, quacks, chokes, croaks, caws, warbles, whistles and honks are a song, a part of my city's symphony. It's in the ear of the listener, I reckon, and I'm fortunate to have so many happy memories of early times with the wonderful noise of gulls in my ears. Throughout my life, they were always around5.
I like having them around. I feel fortunate, honoured even, to be surrounded by such spectacular creatures. I can close my eyes at any time and be transported to a calm, invigorating seashore-of-the-mind, and I often do. Sea-Gull-Surround-Sound, and Totally FREE! As I type here, well past midnight; gulls wheel and dive around me as if the walls weren't there; their noise completely envelops me, streams through my open windows, down my chimney. It's magnificent!
However, I am aware that not everyone feels the same way about sea gulls as I do.
Fact: If you suffer from neighbour noise of any kind, therapy has proven to be highly useful. You learn to see and hear, to "view" your neighbours differently and in so doing, have a less emotional response to their noise; basically it bothers you less. You rarely hear toddlers complain about noise. Same idea.
Of course, many people don't want to enter into any kind of therapeutic or healing process because they believe all their problems are caused by others; for example, "The Neighbours". There are many, many ways to disable yourself and this is one of them. It is precisely when these issues affect you that you are best placed to solve them.
Apparently we are now in the midst of a gull "crisis". So right now is when we need to act. But first we need to understand gulls better, so we can stop fearing them and peacefully co-exist. Instead of tabloid anthropmophising and demonizing we need real information; more research; so we can work towards a better life, a better world for all of us. Instead of hate, we can give these magnificent beings the respect they deserve and maybe even share our cities willingly, living in if not peace, then at least harmony.
This won't happen overnight. But for sure, unless we first sort out the human element of the problem, it won't happen at all.
ps. If I finish this and go through to find a huge great shit on my window I think my respect would transform to pure admiration. I mean, wow!
In the UK, gulls are usually from one of six main species, though others do visit. The one stealing your chips is probably a Herring Gull, perhaps a Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Keep an eye out for Great Black-Backed Gulls; native to the UK; and the largest gull species on the planet. If you encounter one in the street, firstly understand, he wouldn't be there if it wern't for those chips you are waving about and secondly, for your own sake, just put down the damned chips and back away slowly!
Also, DO NOT approach their nesting sites. You have been warned. More than once!
1. The oldest known herring Gull on record was forty nine years old, but thirty years is a more usual lifespan. Gulls usually lay three eggs. Rarely do all three chicks get to be thirty years old.
2. Note, if you step on your partner's stupidly small toy dog, come clean and get over it. Making up stories about killer gulls is just lame. Next time, get a real dog. Or maybe a cat. I mean seriously, this problem could have been solved with a good story and a trip to the pet shop. Some people!
3. Hey! I'm not saying it's not possible; I've seen gulls swallow bigger things whole; but seriously, gulls are smart as f*ck; they understand the societal and political ramifications of that sort of behaviour. Probably.
4. If this sort of thing interests you, check out "‘The Year of the Gull’: demonization of wildlife, pestilence and science in the British press", by Lisa Carr, Luis Reyes-Galindo*
5. Like those two crazy crows who always seem to find me and must be donkey's years old now! One of them has an almost checker-board black-grey wing. I've stopped feeding them, though I do sometimes give them tools. Smart as a whip some birds are; micro-brain-structures see, like the dinosaurs.
6. Like how millions of tons of decommissioned, non-recyclable wind turbine blades are soon to become a huge environmental hazard - a lesson in the potentially deadly impact of short-sighted design goals. Oops!
I wish I was kidding. No seriously, wind turbine blades. Turns out we designed better wind turbine blades two thousand years ago. This and other always-fascinating stuff like it can be found at low tech magazine.