Rome’s seagulls hunt rats and pigeons as lockdown starves them of scraps

‘They are catching mostly pigeons but also swallows and black birds... Luckily they are also eating rats,’ says zoologist

Kate Ng
Saturday 02 May 2020 18:33
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A seagull walks in front of Palazzo Chigi during Italian cabinet meeting in Rome
A seagull walks in front of Palazzo Chigi during Italian cabinet meeting in Rome

Seagulls in Rome are “returning” to their natural status as predators, hunting down rats, pigeons, and other smaller birds as the lack of humans on the streets mean no food scraps are to be found.

Italy has been in lockdown for nearly two months to slow the spread of coronavirus, since 9 March. All restaurants and cafes have closed and the capital’s streets have been devoid of the humans the gulls usually pick scraps of food up from.

Bruno Cignini, a zoologist from the Rome University Tor Vergata, told local newspaper Corriere della Sera the gulls “are going back to being predators”.

“They are catching mostly pigeons but also swallows and black birds. They’re also going after the fish in the Tiber,” he said.

“Luckily, they are also eating rats. Animals are changing their habits as we change ours.”

Eating pigeons and rats are not a new dietary choice for the seagulls, but they usually peck at the prey in the form of road kill. Now, the species known as Yellow-Legged Gulls are honing their killer instincts for survival.

The seagull population in Rome has grown to the tens of thousands and they are largely considered aggressive pests who dive bomb unsuspecting tourists and snatch food straight out of the hands of pedestrians.

The city’s rubbish problem – branded a “crisis” by Rome’s doctors last year – attracts the gulls and other unwelcome animals such as wild boar, coypu – a South America rodent originally introduced to Italy to be farmed for their fur – and parakeets, making it a health hazard.

Last year, Matteo Salvini, former deputy prime minister and head of centre-Right League party, said the gulls were “the size of pterodactyls”.

He made the comments in a Twitter row with Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi, who is from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, after she accused him of not providing the capital with additional police.

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