Herring gulls are considered a nuisance by many here in Cornwall and with good reason sometimes. Their cry can be really noisy and irritating. They steal food from people in a very aggressive way; in some towns like St Ives eating food outside is now banned as it is the only way to stop the gulls predatory attacks on people. Many different attempts have been made to stop such behaviour including culling the birds during the winter, but they came back just as bad. Such ways of behaviour are not normal though for a bird such as this.
The herring gull is a large grey and white bird with black wing tips, a lovely bird, watching it fly can be mesmerising as it swoops and dives over its natural home, the sea. Some biologists have said its wing is one of the most perfect ever designed for flight.
Its natural food is fish or invertebrates and it goes far out to sea to find them, it can be seen on the shoreline grubbing about for small fish or it will follow fishing boats to get the scraps thrown overboard.
The Herring gull was placed on the RED list as an endangered species in 2009 as it disappeared from its normal locations on the coast, there are many colonies around our rubbish tips and cities its true, but the decline appears to be continuing. The British Trust for Ornithology has placed transmitters on 4 gulls in the St Ives flock to follow their movements and try to understand what is going on with this flock. The results are already showing some interesting pointers as to their movements. They do not spend all their time chasing visitors with food, they go out to sea or over to a local RSPB reserve in Hayle or along the coast and they go up to the high moors where they spend time looking for food in the small fields.
As I said at the beginning the call of the Herring gull will never earn any points as a thing of beauty, but how many of us remember it from childhood holidays as much as the bucket and spade or ice cream in a cone.
The aggressive behaviour can be stopped if people stop unconsciously tempting it by showing off their food as they stroll along. As far as the gull is concerned its natural behaviour in a flock would be to steal from one of its own kind in exactly the same way as it does from humans. Like many wild birds the gull spends part of its life starving, unlike us well fed humans, so its bound to want our food given half a chance. By not tempting it the behaviour will stop and maybe in a few generations if the gull survives its decline it may stop altogether. Then we can watch this gull’s wonderful flying in complete safety.
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