Answering calls from the public in the RSPB’s South East Regional Office, there’s one word I must hear more than anything else – SEAGULL!
Since the 1950s, gulls have increasingly nested on the roofs of houses in coastal towns, sometimes bringing them into conflict with the owners.
Nesting birds and their eggs and chicks are legally protected, meaning that it is illegal to move them or destroy their nests.
Sometimes callers are having practical difficulties, for instance they are having work done on the roof and want to know when they can proceed legally. This would be once the chicks have successfully fledged, which would be August in most cases.
Sometimes they are worried by “swooping” gulls which get very territorial as their chicks get older. These birds can be quite intimidating, especially for older people. We advise deterring the birds from swooping by making a show of strength – shouting or waving an umbrella at the gulls. This might not be appropriate for everyone, but is surprisingly effective.
Just before fledging, young gulls often come to the ground before they can fly. They may walk in circles in a garden or stroll up and down a road. Lots of callers ring us because they are concerned; however this is normal behaviour for young gulls and they will generally start flying in a couple of days.
Callers are often really surprised when they hear that gulls are in serious decline. While they are much more regularly seen in towns (like Brighton, where I work), sadly this is because they have moved inland as coastal habitats and feeding opportunities have deteriorated. In fact herring gulls are now on the Red List of species of Conservation Concern.
So spare a thought for our poor town gulls. They may sometimes need a bit of patience and tolerance, but they’re born survivors who have adapted to urban living within the space of just over 50 years.