This Side of the Pond

Notes from an uprooted Englishwoman


August 15, 2019

I know you lot think you have the monopoly on potentially dangerous animals, but you haven’t experienced terror until the world’s most fearsome bird has set its sights upon your dinner.

The humble seagull, vanguard of summer vacations across the world, attraction for small children and clean-up crew when you’ve spilled your lunch. I’m sure they are well behaved on this side of the pond but, in Britain, they are an ever-increasing nuisance.

Why? Because they don’t wait for you to drop your food any more. Buy a portion of fish and chips at any seaside stall in the UK and you have just given permission for the gulls to begin their dive-bombing.

It seems to be getting worse every year. I just found out that one of my old haunts near Exeter University has announced desperate measures because Britain is experiencing a sunnier season than Wyoming and the locals are doing their best to make the most of it, but the seagulls aren’t playing ball.

At The Imperial, a family-friendly pub we found perfect for a relaxed Sunday afternoon hang-out, “large numbers” of gulls have been swooping down on customers to snatch their dinners. I’m particularly shocked by this tale because The Imperial is part of the Wetherspoons franchise and I can’t imagine anyone going to that amount of trouble for their dreadful lasagna – not even a seagull.

They can’t net the outdoor area because it’s too big, so the owners have agreed to a “natural bird deterrent”. No word on which winged savior will be called in to rid the skies of menace, but I’m once again surprised because I didn’t think you were allowed to pester the pesterers.

Seagulls are treated like eagles are on this side of the pond, though I can’t fathom why the evil gits are afforded the same protections as the majestic symbol of America. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is illegal to intentionally injure or kill a gull without a license, even if they make off with your entire tray of fries. The Imperial has clearly obtained one of these precious licenses, but most of us are forced to suffer in silence.

It’s fish and chips the buggers love best, as my poor husband can attest, and the gulls in my neck of the wood are unnecessarily huge. It would be bad enough to have a pigeon or starling suddenly appear in your face, but I am estimating that our seagulls have a wingspan the length of a man and a beak that’s at least a yard long. It certainly seems that way in close-up.

Local newspapers across the land trumpet seagull horror stories on the regular and it’s no longer limited to the seaside – the devils are moving inland. A man was recently attacked by a seagull that wanted his cheese-and-onion roll and had to be taken to hospital for stitches because it bit him until he let go.

A small boy walking through the city center of Plymouth was attacked by four seagulls that had spotted his donut, while a gull in Sidmouth snuck up behind a couple as they sat outside a pharmacy and stole a packet of blood pressure pills from the woman’s handbag. That was one disappointed seagull, methinks.

The feathered miscreants are even capable of coming up with plans. The usual attack pattern is for one gull to flap in a human’s face while squawking menacingly, causing them to drop their food to protect themselves; reinforcements will then appear to snap up the spilled spoils.

It’s not always for food – sometimes, it’s just for the fun. Last summer, a Pokemon Go fan was trying to catch an elusive pet that his phone told him was located in a church yard. Unfortunately, every time he opened the gate, a gull would instantly dive-bomb him.

The victim postulates that either the gull nests on the roof and was protecting its territory, or it was attracted to his bald head. Either way, he experienced more adventure than he bargained for, flinging himself into hedges and hiding under trees as he snuck towards his Pokemon prize.

Waterford in Ireland was put on seagull alert in 2014 after numerous reports of a lone seagull attacking joggers and appearing to “laugh” afterwards. Warnings were published about eating sandwiches and ice cream within the territory claimed by the bird, known locally as Jonathan.

In one seaside town in Devon, a postman has attracted the ire of one “slightly psycho” seagull. It has attacked him so many times that he has been moved to a new delivery route for his own protection.

Also in Devon, the gulls are apparently now getting drunk on the dregs of beer left behind in glasses (or the byproducts from local breweries, nobody is quite sure) and hallucinating after eating flying ants. The boozy bird issue was first discovered when firefighters were called out to rescue a gull that reeked of beer; it promptly fell off a roof, failed to take off and vomited all over their shoes.

The ants are meanwhile causing psychotropic effects that stupefy the birds. The problem has become so common that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Taunton now has a “drunk tank” where gulls are taken to sober up so they can get back to burgling humans as quickly as possible.

To shed light on another big problem associated with these omnipresent gulls, I shall just point you to a short rhyme my mother once taught me: “Little birdy flying high, drops a message from the sky; aren’t you glad that cows can’t fly?” Many Brits will tell you the gulls have learned targeted pooping.

Apparently we bring all this woe on ourselves. The more trash a city has – even when it’s safe within cans – the more gulls will be attracted to the bounty of leftover food and the more quickly they will come up with methods to get more of the good stuff. I suppose the moral of the story is to always take a portable burn barrel with you on vacation – and possibly a hawk.


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