Sunday 25 February 2018

'Owl' sentinel takes up rooftop gull duty

DE-COY: Perched above Terry McCoy’s famous Redbank eatery in Skerries is a statue of a barn owl, not the real deal
DE-COY: Perched above Terry McCoy’s famous Redbank eatery in Skerries is a statue of a barn owl, not the real deal

Joe Kennedy

One might listen in vain for blood-curdling shrieks on these dark nights outside a particular restaurant in North County Dublin.

There was a mysterious presence high in the chimney stacks there, reports said, undeterred by the chill of the night and the wind, sleet and remnant of winter still reluctant to go.

Along with the shrieking, there would have been snoring, hissing and yapping - the natural sounds of a particular bird - from a perched sentinel overlooking the rooftops to the Skerries Islands' lapping tides and Rockabill's light beyond.

This was an owl, there for hours, according to a reader whose friend had also watched its silent gaze. Word was dutifully passed to BirdWatch Ireland ("very unusual" was the response), which has a Fingal branch.

Then, anti-climax as the penny - or in this case, owl pellets - began to drop. This was no ordinary bird, a barn owl of heart-shaped face, round head, pale golden buff back which hunts farmland by night for mammals. No such luck was there to see a real, rare raptor perched high above Terry McCoy's famous Redbank Restaurant and guesthouse in Church Street, Skerries.

This particular bird was not a creature of bone and feather but a counterfeit of sculpted parts and artist's brush, fixed with the sole job of being a threatening presence to winged intruders seeking nesting sites and lured by exotic aromas.

A real owl might have set this town with its healthy, wild bird life to further chattering. But the bird statue is a practical preventative to curb the annual takeover of roofs by herring gulls which breed and raise young on houses and scavenge where they can as there is no longer sufficient fish waste for them in harbour towns.

Terry McCoy is hopeful that his inanimate bird, replete with moving head, will prove a strong deterrent to the surfeit of gulls which have taken over local housing estates, and his guesthouse roof, and which behave aggressively when there are eggs and young in the nest, often targeting humans for getting too close, and for what they perceive as food for the taking being carried along.

It may be early days yet for gulls but some of them are preparing to deal with meddlesome humans along streetscapes. Keep heads covered when you hear those cries in Grafton Street!

Gulls have been nesting on the roof of the Redbank and overnight guests have been constantly awakened at 4am by a squawking cacophony, Terry says. It was time to do something and he hopes his 'owl' will put an end to this.

"It's all an experiment," he says. "I am not certain if it will work, but I am hopeful. At the moment gulls are alighting on the roof but keeping a respectful distance from the owl. I am hoping they will not nest or lay eggs, fearing that this bird of prey is waiting to snatch their chicks.

"It is all a matter of wait-and-see. We should know by June if it is a success," added Terry, who found his owl in a hardware merchant's in Howth.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, a north Mayo reader who heard an early cuckoo calling a week ago now says silence reigns in this false winter chill. The weather just went backwards, as he put it.

Sunday Independent

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