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There have been concerns about a spike in seagull numbers inland.
There have been concerns about a spike in seagull numbers inland.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

A spike in seagulls? Locals in Dublin have concerns but experts say lockdown isn't to blame

The seagull population of Dublin is now at its peak.
Aug 15th 2020, 10:30 AM 36,854 86

THERE IS NO evidence to suggest that the Covid-19 lockdown has changed the behaviour of seagulls, heritage officials have said, amid concerns about a growing population of loud, squawking seagulls in inland areas of Dublin this summer. 

Data from Google also revealed a spike in searches for the term “seagulls” in July. 

However, there is no evidence – at least for now – to suggest that the city’s population of gulls has increased unexpectedly in recent months.

Niall Hatch, the development officer at BirdWatch Ireland, said it was “hard to know exactly what is going on”. 

“The thing to bear in mind is that are several species of gull – and it’s quite normal for some to move inland,” Hatch said. 

Hatch said that August was peak time for seagulls in the city, with seagulls feeding on flying ants and gathering in large flocks.

“It isn’t that unusual to see other species coming in land, especially in Dublin itself,” Hatch said. 

It’s also the time of year when the nesting season has finished and there are a “more gulls at any other time of the year”. 

Observing more

While Hatch didn’t discount the possibility that people were seeing more gulls, he said that people might simply be spotting more gulls than before because they’re staying at home more because of the pandemic.

The impact of the virus – and the lockdown introduced to combat it – on bird populations remains to be seen. 

While nesting took place in some slightly more unorthodox locations because of the absence of humans, “whether that will have any long-term effect on bird populations, it’s too early to say”. 

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that it doesn’t have a role in the control of gulls and offered no details on whether it has received complaints from the public. 

“Gulls can be seen nesting on roof tops throughout the summer months,” the spokesperson said. Calling seagulls a “very visual component of Dublin city’s biodiversity”, they said that spotting gulls in the city “is not an indication of their population increasing”.

“In fact, Herring gull and Black-Headed gull numbers have dropped dramatically,” the spokesperson said. 

The council “strongly advises people not to feed the gulls, as this influences the interactive behaviour between birds and humans”. 

Seagulls Data from Google Trends, showing how searches for the term seagulls spiked in July. Source: Google

Nuisance

A spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said that it had “no evidence to suggest that the Covid-19 measures have contributed to a changing behaviour of seagulls”. 

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“Herring gulls can be a nuisance because of noise, mainly in July and early August, and may steal food from people eating outdoors. In the latter case, the easy availability of food sources from litter or feeding by people may be contributing factors to the bird behaviour of concern,” the spokesperson said. 

Herring gulls, one of the most common birds in Dublin, are red-listed and are of high conservation concern. The population has dropped by around 90% in the last 40 years – meaning that despite an apparent abundance of seagulls in the city and its surrounding area, the species is actually in real danger. 

Being a protected species under EU law, seagulls do enjoy protection. And while some derogation from this protection is allowed for several reasons, including if birds pose a risk to crops or public health, it has not been widely applied in Ireland. 

baby seagulls 03 August time, following nesting season, is when the seagull population hits a peak. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

In May 2017, such a derogation was granted to areas in Balbriggan – allowing the removal of eggs and nests to control the population following concerns from locals. A cull was not one of the measures permitted. 

“Similar provision was made in the current Declaration effective from 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021,” a spokesperson said. 

In response to a report on bird species in October 2018, a committee was formed to look at seagull populations. With membership from Fingal County County Council and local community representatives, as well as from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, “remit of the Committee is not confined to one particular urban area given the widespread range of seagulls”, the spokesperson said. 

Ultimately, it seems as if complaints will continue – from members of the public and councillors alike. 

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Dominic McGrath

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