Belfast Telegraph

Greedy seagulls are only doing what comes naturally

By Gail Walker

Look - or rather don't - behind you. Those cold dead eyes. The steely heart of a natural born killer. And that terrifyingly big bill. Yes, it's the Summer of the Seagull. Like Alfred Hitchcock's classic The Birds, everywhere you look, seagulls are gathering, watching you, eyeing your gravy chip, the still silence marred only by the odd sinister squawk.

Open up a paper and read how "killer gulls" are threatening children, dive-bombing OAPs, breaking a pianist's fingers, killing dogs and turning all Hannibal Lecter by eating starlings.

Wake up, people! Can't you see what's happening? From Aberdeen cinemas to Cornish seaside towns, gulls are running amok. Students from Trinity College Dublin are complaining about gulls "the size of dogs" (Chihuahuas? Bulldogs? Great Irish Danes? Alas, the students haven't been that precise) waiting for them to finish their food and generally, like, freaking them out.

The public are gripped by anti-gull hysteria. In Devizes, Wiltshire, the authorities are destroying gulls' eggs. MPs are suggesting that gulls are sterilised. Even vigilantes are seeking revenge, with the body of one poisoned gull left symbolically like an offering outside a Bridport police station. Bristol council is getting hawks and falcons to "scare" the gulls away.

Stop this madness! Where is the ornithological version of Atticus Finch when you need him?

So bad is the situation that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, David Cameron, says that maybe it is time we (ie the nation) had a "big conversation" (warning: beware any politician who thinks we should have a "big conversation" about anything) about gulls.

Not Isis, not Greece, not the health service, or welfare. Gulls.

Well, Mr Cameron, since you asked for it, here is my tuppence-worth. I like gulls. They are bigger than you think, emit bloodcurdling squawks and, when seen anywhere but the coastline, are harbingers of bad weather (it is advisable, for example, when confronted by a gull on Royal Avenue, to suck your teeth like Pirate Pete and mutter about "storm be a-coming").

Up close they are spectacularly beautiful and incredibly varied in species. Through no skill of my own, I've taken some fabulous photographs of gulls swirling in the air just feet from me at dusk. They become other-worldly, like pterodactyl from another time wheeling high into the sky.

If you want your spirit to soar, spend an hour reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book I was introduced too by a repentant old paramilitary whose own heart had taken flight for better shores.

More or less all birds get good PR, but not gulls. Oh no. They are the punks of the ornithological world - and they don't give a flying one what we, or for that matter the PM, thinks of them. Just give them the chips.

They are also a reminder that animals are not cute and cuddly. They are sometimes (to bizarrely imbue them with human character traits) mean, selfish and downright unspeakable. We all can't be bunny rabbits in this world.

I don't want to minimise the distress of those who have been attacked by gulls. A big gull flapping in your face must be a genuinely frightening experience. The story of the woman whose dog was killed by a seagull was genuinely horrifying and sad.

But it is strange how tolerant we are of the mayhem created by domestic pets, which I'm happily well acquainted with. Still, there are no questions in the House about cats stalking and sadistically killing thousands of innocent little birds, then leaving them on doorsteps as gifts for their owners. And dogs don't becoming Public Enemy No 1 just because some of their kind get their jollies by chasing cats, nipping postmen and snarling at old ladies.

Oh no. We accept this with sangfroid. "But look at his lickle face. Who's my best boy? You are."

In other words, cats and dogs can be true to their animal nature. But gulls swooping down for a bit of your sandwich? That is a national crisis.

Yet are they, too, not being true to their nature? Are they, too, not only obeying their animal instincts?

True, seagulls are moving inland, but that's not sinister. That's nature. We have largely depleted their food stocks (er, fish) by overfishing. High city buildings offer protection for their young and our waste culture of landfill, dumpsters and street bins stuffed to overflowing with disregarded McDonald's and KFC cartons offer an easy food supply.

Seagulls are wild animals, not evil terrorists. They cannot help what they do. But we are supposed to be rational creatures. We can catch ourselves on. And one thing we can do is not give in to simple-minded hysteria. They have as much right to be here as we have.

At the end of the day, it is up to us to change our nature. Not to change theirs.

Belfast Telegraph


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