Often found lurking around refuse sites, swooping low over picnic tables and ruining the perfectly-groomed hairstyles of innocent 1960s actresses.
In short, they’re awkward, loud and irascible… And they’re not-particularly-great singers either.
But perhaps we should spare a thought for the oft-maligned creatures?
After all — how would you like it if a politician took to the floor of the national parliament to call for a cull of your species?
Well, that’s just what Kerry senator Ned O’Sullivan did this week — firing a warning shot across the bows of the nation’s population of herring gulls before he set off on his holidays.
They’ve “lost the run of themselves completely” the Fianna Fáil politician opined, after pointing out (for no apparent reason whatsoever) that had nothing against pigeons (yes, really).
“They’re very raucous, they’re keeping people awake,” he complained — to muffled laughter from his colleagues.
But he wasn’t done.
“I saw that they’re getting so cheeky now that they attack young children and dispossess them of their lollipops and stuff like that,” he continued, citing complaints from listeners on a recent Liveline.
The Senator — who last hit the headlines back in June, when he compared Enda Kenny to Hitler —- wants the new Environment Minister Alan Kelly to do something about the issue, he told the chamber.
He then finished his brief contribution on the issue by saying they appeared more interested in eating human waste than looking for fish anyway.
The laughing gull
In fact, it had been a rough week for seagulls by that point anyway.
There was also the story of Jonathan, a well known gull-about-town in Waterford — found dead in the street on Thursday morning.
He had been “laughing” at joggers on the Dunmore Road, we’re told — swooping down at them from his perch atop a lamppost…
The last remains of Jonathan, the laughing seagull? [Karen Doyle/WLR]
The finger of suspicion is now firmly pointed at the South East’s fitness community.
So — what are we to make of the Senator’s claims?
Are the gulls of Dublin (and he mentioned the capital specifically in the Seanad) presiding over a feathery reign of terror?
And if they are, how do we deal with them?…
O’Sullivan wasn’t around to expand on his claims yesterday (he texted back to say he was abroad) — but speaking to the Indo on Thursday he explained how he felt compelled to speak up after the birds tried to abduct a “startled woman’s pet Chihuahua” (the Chihuahua, we imagine, was also pretty discombobulated).
Fair enough. The birds in question have a certain rep. You can hardly imagine a robin or a brent goose attempting to snatch a tiny dog in its clutches.
But should we tar all seagulls with the same brush?
Not in the least, insists Niall Hatch — a development officer at Birdwatch Ireland (and yes, ‘Mr Hatch’ has heard all the jokes).
In fact, the nation’s population of herring gulls is on the decline.
“People think there’s more of them around because they see them more,” he says, adding that many of them are now moving into urban areas.
In Dublin Bay a lot of islands they would use for nesting are no longer suitable, because you have a lot of rats eating their eggs.
In fact, the population is down by a whopping 90 per cent in the last two decades, according to the organisation.
The herring gull, despite its confident bearing — may simply be putting on a brave face: it’s on the ‘birds of conservation concern’ list in Ireland, though the wider European population is rated as ‘secure’.
But… Let’s not shirk from the truth here — they do swoop down on people, don’t they?… Joggers? Women with tiny dogs? Children with lollipops?
Says Hatch: “I haven’t heard about lollipops. That’s not the kind of food that seagulls would have any interest in”.
“We do get lots of reports of activity around the Grafton Street and Stephen’s Green area though, from people feeding the ducks.”
“It’s never good when wild animals start to associate people with food.”
Over in Fingal — just inland from the birds’ habitual Dublin breeding spots on Lambay island and Ireland’s Eye — another Birdwatch Ireland member, James English, adds that anyone foolish enough to stumble into known a breeding ground may have to face the wrath of a swooping gull.
“If there’s a young bird around they’ll take action,” he notes, adding (reassuringly) that nesting season is now “almost over”.
“They tend to nest on roofs of buildings too. They don’t see them as any different than cliffs.
In Skerries, I’ve heard stories of people being swooped upon where they had a nest in their roof, and they had to put wire on their chimneys.
“It’s not a particularly serious issue though.”
Of course, the Birdwatch people are bound to spin the pro-gull line.
How about an impartial voice?
We put in another call…
“No, it’s not one of the top ten things we’d be concerned about,” says a bemused Richard Guiney of the Dublin City Business Improvement District.
“We’d have reports from businesses of them trying to rip open rubbish bags.”
Right. Maybe we’re on to something.
But it’s not notably worse than it would have been in previous years.
So, it seems no-one’s particularly concerned about — to use another O’Sullivan phrase — the “sky rats” of Dublin.
And even if they were, the Environment Minister wouldn’t be the man to talk to — at least, according to his Department.
“It’s not an issue at all for the Department of the Environment,” a press spokesman explains, pointing us towards the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who deal with “anything about birds and animals”.
So, how about it, National Parks and Wildlife Service?…
We sent in our questions, and got this charmingly gull-friendly response…
Unfortunately, our bird expert is on leave until Monday. We hope that the following general facts will be of some use to you in the interim…
Well that’s nice.
The email continues…
- The Herring Gull is widespread in Ireland but the Irish population has in fact decreased hugely over the last 20 years, probably due to better management of municipal dumps where they once congregated in large numbers to feed.
- The decrease might come as a surprise to Dubliners, as many herring gulls nest on the roofs of houses, apartments and other buildings in the city and around the county. They make a lot of noise at night during the breeding season, which lasts from mid-June to the end of July, but thereafter they disperse, allowing residents to sleep better.
- Although they can at times be a nuisance, they are nonetheless a protected species; as stated above, numbers have declined in recent years and the Department does not have any plans to reduce the population. (Note that a licence would be required for any control measures on a protected species.)
So there you have it…
The seagulls of Dublin can rest easy in their beds tonight.
Except, obviously, they won’t — will they?