Thursday 29 September 2016

Liam Collins: It's war on seagulls

Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30

In Trinity College there are gulls
In Trinity College there are gulls "as big as dogs" waiting for people to finish food in the hopes of bagging a throwaway crust (Stock image)

Seagulls are attacking pet dogs and killed a poor tortoise in England, and here magpies are conducting mass massacres of small garden birds such as sparrows, tits and thrushes.

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It's time to have more than a "conversation", as advocated by British prime minister David Cameron, about such out-of-control species - it's really time to have an official extermination programme to curb the rapacious ways of gulls and magpies.

Ironically, gulls are protected in Ireland, though there seems little evidence of a "large decline" in the population.

Senator Denis O'Donovan, from Bantry, has called for an Oireachtas debate on the issue of marauding gulls, particularly the "raucous" city ones that are out of their natural habitat. He gave one instance of a terrified tourist having a bap plucked from her hand by an opportunist gull.

Some species of gulls are huge creatures. They're fine when they stick to the seaside or the coast, but like magpies, those black and white rodents with wings, gulls are now colonising large areas of suburbia and making their arrogant presence felt in places they're not wanted.

In Cornwall recently, a flock of gulls turned over a pet tortoise, Stig, and pecked him so badly that he died two days later from his injuries. Dog owners have also reported attacks by marauding flocks of gulls, in scenes reminiscent of Hitchcock's horror movie The Birds.

In Trinity College there are gulls "as big as dogs" waiting for people to finish food in the hopes of bagging a throwaway crust.

Gulls, such as the herring gull, are large, noisy, aggressive pests equipped with dangerous beaks that can pierce and tear flesh. Some have learned that there are easier pickings than depleted fish stocks and dead crabs and have colonised town dumps. Emboldened by their success, they're now foraging boldly on city streets and picking on weaker domestic animals.

They're even more arrogant than the chattering magpies whose numbers are growing alarmingly in city and town parks. Flocks of magpies are conducting a reign of terror against the rest of the avian community. Added to that is the threat the gulls and magpies spread from foraging in rubbish bins, not to mention the noise pollution of their constant squawking and chatter.

In 2007, west of Ireland politician Jim Higgins advocated a bounty on magpies and other members of the crow family. It's a suggestion now taken up by Mr Cameron, though couched in more careful terms about a "conversation" about the dangers gulls pose.

I remember a time in the country when there was an official Department of Agriculture price on the head of certain species of birds, mostly of the crow family. Much like bringing lemonade bottles back to the shop and getting 3p, you were paid a set price for the heads of magpies, grey crows and rooks at the local garda station.

The old pishogue saying "one for sorrow, two for joy" needs to be amended to "let's cull these unsavoury birds and the more the merrier".

In the Farming Independent, Chris Fox, a Wicklow farmer and member of the Irish Deer Management Forum, has called for a cull of the deer population in Wicklow, which he maintains is "out of control".

The ban on hunting has led to an upsurge in the numbers of many different species - urban foxes, rabbits, deer and the odious grey squirrel, in particular.

However, culling these doe-eyed creatures so beloved of suburbanites from the trendy cottages will undoubtedly lead to howls of outrage.

But to me the real and present danger comes from our aerial vermin, particularly gulls and magpies, which have multiplied and spread with alarming speed across the parks and green spaces of our cities.

Gulls and magpies prey on the eggs and chicks of other birds and use their numbers and their power to terrorise the small, inoffensive songbirds. While acknowledging this in the case of magpies, Bird Watch Ireland refused to link this appalling behaviour with the obvious decline in the small bird population.

In my opinion they are wrong, and there is a direct correlation between the two things.

The plague of these ugly, cruel gulls and magpies is without doubt to the forefront of the disappearance of the beloved sparrow flocks that used to whirr from garden to garden in spring and summer.

Why is it that we all seem to hold a terror of rats when the magpies, which are effectively rats with wings, get away with their arrogant behaviour and aggressive gulls look at you with beady, challenging eyes, daring you to interfere when they're feeding on discarded fast food on city streets?

I have never shot, trapped or poisoned any animal on purpose (well, apart from a couple of unfortunate mice who invaded my bed). But I do think we need to be protected from the rampant urban vermin such as gulls and magpies now that their populations are totally out of control.

It's time to put a price on the heads of these bird species and drive them back to where they belong, the seashore in the case of gulls and the wild countryside in the case of magpies.

Let's reclaim the hedges for indigenous Irish birds that are being hunted and bullied out of their natural habitat by these vermin.

Irish Independent

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