IMHO they are amazing birds!
During the summer months I’ll often see news reports painting gulls as monsters and attacking people which has made me write this blog post. I have studied gull behaviour for many years and think I kind of know them better than most.
Gulls are not the monsters they are made out to be, just misunderstood.
Gulls are highly intelligent birds and are opportunistic hunters for food which humans see as aggressive or an attack. Most of the fault and problem lies with human behaviour rather than gull behaviour when it comes to feeding them. Some people love the gulls so may feed them, but by doing so causes the gulls behaviour to change. The problem is not actually feeding the gulls, but the way in which humans feed them. People tend to feed gulls by chucking bread or offering food by hand, which is bad practice and causes chaos and gull bad behaviour. By feeding this way gulls soon learn that a human with food in their hand is a free meal and it causes them to swoop down and try to grab food out of a human carrying food.
I live in a gull breeding area where many gulls have chicks and I have never had food snatched or been attacked even when chicks are around or if we are eating a meal in the garden. I do not feed my gulls by hand, but rather feed them like I would any other bird - I put food in a bowl which acts like a bird feeder. My resident pair of gulls come down to feed out of the bowl in a very civilised manner just like a sparrow would. My gulls will sit patiently waiting for the bowl to be filled, just like my cats would do. it.
My resident pair of gulls, Lagertha and Ragnar eating out of their food bowl. Video clip taken on my phone at wide angle.
My resident pair have been visiting me since 2008 and even bring their chicks down each year with them. The chicks are very endearing and very curious. When I’m doing my birds in flight photography from my step ladders next to my office roof they’ll often come very close to look at what I’m doing and often settle down to have a sleep next to me. I guess they feel safe in my company.
Torvi, one of Lagerta's chicks being very curious. Clip taken on my phone at wide angle, so she was very close.
If treated correctly gulls can be very endearing birds and as they live quite a long life they can build a bond with a human, but this doesn't mean they think the same about all humans. My cats have a bond with me, but will run away from other people they don’t know, gulls are the same. I also do not get hundreds of gulls in to feed as my resident pair guard their territory, so there is never any chaos in my garden!
The gulls favourite food seems to be the suet pellet bird food, just like the rest of the birds.
Gulls are not daft, and if there is a choice between bread which is not good for them or suet pellets they eat the pellets, I have run experiments and found this to be the case. So if one is going to feed them, feed them sensibly.
Being a photographer my main objective is getting pictures and I have found over the years of trying to understand the gulls behaviour and different bird cries they make that it has helped me get my birds of prey pictures. Most of my buzzard pictures captured from my garden are thanks to my gulls warning me of their presence. I can be sitting in my office and hear a certain gull cry and know there are buzzards around. When there are birds of prey around, all the gulls in the area will join forces to create a wall to try and block the buzzards penetrating their territory. When the gulls chicks are young in spring and early summer the gulls will even attack the buzzards and team up with crows to drive them off. It is quite amazing to watch.
So for me gulls are just simply amazing birds and need a bit more respect than we give them. I often find it quite frustrating that some people can’t seem to live alongside any form of wildlife without wanting to get rid of it, it is humans' attitude that needs to change, not the wildlife!
If one live in Britain one needs to get used to gulls, we have a lot of them and as we are an island with the furthest place from the coast only being 70 miles away so one is going to get gulls everywhere.
Buzzard pictures taken in Thanet, Kent
See my collection of buzzard photos taken this year in Thanet, Kent. All photos taken from my garden as they fly over.
The 2020 pandemic has actually given me more time to spend on specific projects I've always intended to do but not had time to do in the past, one being birds of prey in my local area. It has been quite staggering how many I've seen this year from the garden, from Red Kites, Kestrels, Sparrowhawks to the UK's most common bird of prey the buzzard.
Because I've studied seagull behaviour for many years it has made it easier to know when birds of prey are around, my local seagulls give me the heads up with a warning squawk, which I've learnt to distinguish from their other squawks.
Seagulls chasing Buzzards
The herring gulls are very impressive at guarding their territory with amazing bravery against such a fearsome predator. Unfortunately the gulls are a bit too efficient at driving the birds of prey out of their breeding ground, so I don't often get them close enough to the garden to get many pictures. Here are a few I managed to get the other day.