• Humans may be to blame for pesky gulls

    Open garbage bins make food plentiful for these protected visitors

    by Kacie Clark

    When confronted with the question, “What can I do about getting rid of seagulls?,” many home and restaurant owners in Pacific Grove may find themselves perplexed.  Yet, it’s not an uncommon question, with seagulls congregating continuously at open air dining establishments, peaks of roofs, and parks.

    The gulls can be extremely aggressive, swooping down to snatch some food from an unattended plate, or even from a small child’s hand. Their droppings can damage paint on cars and homes, and can transmit bacteria to humans if they come in contact with it. One 2010 study, led by Dr. Patrice Nordmann of the Hopital de Bicetre near Paris, disclosed that some of the bacteria left by droppings may be antibiotic resistant. The transmission of infectious bacteria is especially worrisome with respect to children, who are more likely to put their hands in their mouths after contamination.

    Despite these problems, it’s largely humans that are to blame for this overpopulation and aggressiveness- people continually feeding the gulls are the reason the birds have become habituated to human presence and food, and can reproduce without restriction due to lack of food.

    Further, the name “seagulls,” is a common misnomer; there are many different types of gulls, but the ones most common here are California and Herring gulls.

    Getting rid of them isn’t as simple as one might assume. Unlike other creatures commonly thought of as “pests,” such as mice, or even in some cases, pigeons, a pest control service likely won’t be of any help to a person with gull problems. The gulls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which makes it illegal to disturb the birds or their nests without a permit.

    Edward Owens, a wildlife biologist in the Migratory Bird Permit Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service in Sacramento, is the person who issues those permits.

    “There aren’t any of those permits issued there [in Pacific Grove]. I issue the permits, and there’s no one down there I’ve issued to,” he said. “It would be extremely unlikely for to me to issue one. It’s more likely I’d issue a permit for a nest to be destroyed than moved. If you move it, it just becomes someone else’s problem.”

    That being said, Owens did offer suggestions for mitigating the problem.

    “Reflective Mylar tape, noise makers, and spikes in certain areas world help,” he said. However, the problem isn’t likely to go away, he added; “If there’s a food source, like an open air dining area, that’s extremely hard to deal with. And the gulls can be especially aggressive if they are nesting nearby.”

    There are a lot of products on the market designed to mitigate gull problems, such as the aforementioned spikes, which come in a range of shapes and sizes.

    Owens recommended the “Daddi Long Legs,” which look very much like its namesake, and can effectively keep gulls and other birds off of places like street lights and lampposts.

    Lining whole sections of roofs with spikes however, is impractical, according to Owens.

    “It’s really better in small areas,” he said. “Generally, if there’s more space, the birds will find a way to nest.”

    At Robert H Down Elementary school, reports of seagulls attacking children and eating their lunches led to proposals of seagull deterrents to be installed in conjunction with other playground and lunch area renovations.

    Landscape architect Oona Gaberek described the problem in a presentation to the Pacific Grove Unified School District (PGUSD)’s school board June 13.

    “I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see what they did with the birds,” she said, and cited many of the same suggestions Owens listed; “Spikes, shade, and water spraying.” The shade structures can be effective, she explained because the birds don’t like to go underneath the coverings.

    Distress calls can also be used, according to Owens. The calls consist of recordings of gulls in distress, which are then replayed over speakers in the hopes of keeping the birds away. The Pacific Grove City Hall employed such a tactic at one point, according to Lawrence Bangert, the public works administration technician at City Hall, though they no longer use it.

    “It was a really weird noise,” he said, and noted that, although he doesn’t know why or exactly when a switch was made to another option, he described the new system as “an electronic deterrent system.”

    Those systems were another tactic listed by Owens, who said they deliver a mild electric shock when the birds come in contact with an area where the system is set up.

    One final solution Owens offered was that of employing a falcon to keep the birds away. Owens reports that although he does not specifically have experience with the services, he’s received positive reports of its success. He cited several examples, such as Seaworld, the amusement park in San Diego, which employs falcons, with success, to keep seagulls away.

    The Lodge at Pebble Beach has used the service of company “Tactical Avian Predators” to similar effect.

    While it won’t help with gull problems immediately, Owen’s said, in general, the best practice when dealing with the birds is to eliminate their human food sources, and above all else, do not feed them.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 9, 2013

    Topics: Front PG News

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