The gull problem
A growing number of Lesser Black-backed and Herring gulls build nests on the roofs of homes and businesses in towns across North Ayrshire, rather than on coastal cliffs. Our roofs are warm, chimneys provide shelter, and streetlights mean they can feed at night.
Life in town is easy for the birds, discarded food provides a feast, and some people intentionally feed them.
The gulls bring with them a number of problems, like:
- mess from droppings, and scavenging in bins
- damage to property and corrosion of vehicles
- attacks on people and pets.
Problems become more serious during the breeding season. Mating starts in April and nesting from early May onwards. Two or three eggs are laid, taking 3 to 4 weeks to hatch. Chicks start appearing in early June and stay in the nest for 5 to 6 weeks.
Parents can become aggressive defending their nests, and any chicks that fall out. They will dive and swoop on anyone approaching, which can be frightening.
Young gulls begin to fly in late July, early August. Aggression increases as they squabble over food and noise nuisance gets worse.
It can be hard for the birds to find enough to eat, often attacking people carrying food in the street. They swoop down low, aiming to frighten their victim, before stealing the food. People have been injured by sharp beaks and claws and domestic pets can be attacked. Gulls are clever and learn from each other. They choose vulnerable targets, meaning children and elderly people are most at risk.
By early September, young birds head out to sea. Most of the parents leave too, returning the following year.
It takes 4 years for a gull to reach maturity and breed. Many return to nest where they were born. Gulls like to nest in colonies. Once a pair gains a foothold others follow, adding to the problem.
There is no quick fix. Control measures need to be kept up for several years to be effective.
The key lies in reducing their ability to breed successfully and limiting the supply of food. Gulls pair and mate for life but if they fail to rear chicks they will split up.
Action needs to be planned early in the year. Once chicks have hatched it’s too late to do much to reduce numbers.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to capture, injure or destroy any wild bird, or interfere with its nest or eggs. Penalties can be severe. However, the law also provides a general licence system, which allows property owners to take action against gulls nesting on buildings by destroying nests or eggs.
This can only be used for the purpose of preserving public health, public safety, and preventing the spread of disease and is specifically for the control of Herring, Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed gulls.
If action is taken for any other reason, or if other species of gull are targeted, then an offence is committed.
Herring gulls are large, around 55cm from bill to tail with a wingspan of 85cm when mature. They have a yellow beak with a red spot, pink legs and silver-grey wings.
Lesser Black-backed gulls are smaller than Herring gulls. Thay have a yellow beak and yellow legs, with dark grey-black back and wings.
Only an owner or occupier can take action against gulls nesting on buildings, but they can give someone else permission to act on their behalf.
Any action taken must be humane and should only be used where scaring or proofing is either ineffective, or impracticable. Any method that could cause suffering is illegal. The use of poisons, or drugs, to take, or kill, any bird is specifically prohibited, except under very special circumstances and with a government licence, received in advance.
Although herring gulls can be killed under the general licence, this can only be done to protect public health, prevent serious damage to agriculture, or to conserve wild birds.
North Ayrshire Council's policy is not to kill, or harm, live gulls or chicks.
North Ayrshire Council has no statutory duty to take action against gulls, but does recognise the need to protect communities. However, the Council cannot do this alone, and everyone has a role to play in preventing problems.
How you can help
Do not feed gulls or drop food scraps. Feeding gulls encourages them to stay. Put litter and waste in secure, enclosed containers or bins. Remember, dropping litter or food scraps is an offence and you may be liable to a penalty.
Be a good neighbour, and don’t attract gulls to your garden to feed. If you feed them regularly, they'll expect everyone to do the same. This could lead to them attacking people to steal food, which can be frightening and could result in injury to the person.
We understand the wish to help wildlife, but human food is bad for gulls. A gull's natural diet is based on shellfish, small sea creatures, bird eggs, insects and earthworms.
In spring, owners or occupiers should check the roofs of premises regularly for signs of nest building. Tenants should report nests to their landlord as soon as they are seen. If possible, the property owner should arrange to have the nest or eggs removed, using a licensed contractor.
Property owners can discourage gulls from nesting by erecting deterrent devices on chimney heads, flat roof areas, and other possible nesting sites. If all owners of buildings ,which have (or may attract) roof nesting gulls, took appropriate measures, it would be easier to reduce gull colonies. Deterrents include:
- fitting long spikes to places like chimney stack
- fitting short spikes to dormer roofs
- fitting wires, or nets, to prevent gulls landing
- disturbance of nesting sites, including removal of nests and eggs.
If you have a problem with gulls nesting on your property, you can contact a specialist company for advice or a quotation. Due to the risk of trapping, nets should only be used after taking advice from a competent specialist.
If gulls nest on your property, you can arrange, through a competent specialist working under the appropriate licence, for eggs to be pierced, or oiled, to prevent hatching, or have them removed and replaced with imitation eggs.
Please note: Work on roofs should only be carried out by a competent person aware of safety requirements. All roof fixtures should be suitable for the specific roof and not constitute a safety or fire risk.