Gulls behaving badly targeted in purge on UK's 'flying yobs'

Urban gulls who dive-bomb humans are to be tagged. Can Asbos for Britain's notoriously ill-mannered birds be far behind?
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The Independent Online

Some of our worst inner-city thugs are about to be tagged.

Some of our worst inner-city thugs are about to be tagged.

The urban gull, scourge of cities up and down the land, attacker of pensioners, defiler of buildings, mobber of smaller birds, and an unwelcome alarm call to millions of residents, is set to be served with the naturalists' equivalent of the Asbo.

And not before time. Experts predict the gull population could reach one and a half million in the next 10 years - seven times its present level. These numbers are producing a rising tide of complaints in cities and towns such as Gloucester, Worcester, Cardiff, Scarborough, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Bath, where there were more than 100 complaints last year, mostly about noise.

Now scientists want to start the fightback. Bristol-based ornithologist Peter Rock has asked the Government to fund a two-year study into the life and times of the urban gull. He wants to put together a team to tag and track the birds in an attempt to control the population explosion and the problems it brings. His scheme involves fitting a handful of adult birds with a satellite-receiving "data-logger". The team would then be able to follow the gulls for two years, video them at feeding sites and analyse their habits. A decision on funding from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is due soon.

Thirty years ago there were very few urban gulls, save for those blown inland or a few pioneers who arrived in search of food. Then, a couple of decades ago, they started to move permanently to cities, where they found a steady supply of food, warmer temperatures and lack of predators.

But they brought problems with them. In the wild the birds stamp their authority on their patch by plucking up grass with their beaks, but in the city they are more likely to pluck insulation off rooftops. Heavy rain can wash rooftop nests into gutters, causing flooding, not to mention the birds' habit of soiling newly washed cars.

The problem is so bad in Gloucester that the council offers free gull egg-oiling to businesses. Council workers swoop on nests and paint freshly laid eggs with paraffin to stop them hatching. Last year they oiled around 600.

Gangsters with wings

Herring gull

The crime: Gang violence and vandalism in inner-city areas.

The judgment: The birds are to be tagged in an attempt to control their population. In some areas their eggs are painted with paraffin.

Hitchcock factor: They have been known to attack people in classic The Birds style.

Thief with no shame

Carrion crow

The crime: Threatens ravens at Tower of London by competing for food.

The judgment: Up to 12 crows are being culled every week at the Tower.

Hitchcock factor: Solitary raider of other birds' nests, feels no shame.

Promiscuous pond life

Ruddy duck

The crime: Threatens the survival of Spanish white-headed ducks by mating with them and gradually breeding them out of existence.

The judgment: The Spanish government started a culling programme to safeguard the future of the white-headed duck.

Hitchcock factor: Rampant lover could soon force its latin inamorata out of existence.

Leery loudmouth ruining our parks

Canada goose

The crime: Large groups are a nuisance in communal parks. Noisy, can damage grassland and also has a nasty peck.

The judgment: Recently added to the Government's General Licence, which means it can be culled in certain circumstances.

Hitchcock factor: Originally imported for a king, now a pest.

A ruthless killer harassing anglers

Cormorant

The crime: Damaging freshwater fish stocks.

The judgment: The Government ordered up to 1,500 to be killed. Licences to shoot the birds are still available, and the RSPB fears up to 3,000 could be killed.

Hitchcock factor: Big and ugly, but confined to water.

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