parks and reproductions

Are those pesky seagulls edging out the ducks in Stephen's Green? No, say the experts...

People have noticed a drop in the number of ducks in the park recently — but apparently it’s nothing to do with seagulls “losing the run of themselves” again…

SEAGULLS HAVE BEEN on the minds of Dubliners’ in the last few weeks.

It might be something do with the racket they make at this time of year — or the fact that the weather’s been decent enough, and we’re spending more time outdoors.

But to a large extent, we have Kerry senator Ned O’Sullivan to thank for putting the ubiquitous birds on the city’s agenda (even though his pronouncement earlier this month that Dublin’s seagulls are “losing the run of themselves” was met with much sniggering and derision at the time).

The Fianna Fáil politician’s tirade against the gulls (or “sky rats” as he called them) led to acres of media coverage in the following days — for the last fortnight or so, people have been taking to social media in their droves to document their encounters with the winged terrors.

Those cunning gulls have even figured out Twitter, it seems:

The fact that the industrious gulls appear to have taken over a certain prime slice of avian real estate in Dublin 2 hasn’t escaped people either.

Anyone who’s ventured to Stephen’s Green with a toddler or two in recent weeks intending to feed the ducks may have been met with a scene something like this…

maf91 / Instagram

Ducks vs Gulls

So what gives?

Have the city’s herring gulls staged a land-grab at our most famous southside park?

If not, where have all the ducks gone?

“Yes, this is phonecall we tend to get from people at this time of year alright,” says Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland.

Apparently there’s always a bit of an imbalance between the two species in the park at this time of year. And it’s all to do with their breeding seasons…

“There’s always been gulls around the Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street area.

People might be noticing more of the gulls around in the last few years though because they’re nesting in roofs in the area. We know, for instance, that there have been herring gulls nesting in rooftops on Grafton Street this year.

It’s all down to problems at their natural nesting spots, as many of their favoured locations on the islands of Dublin Bay — like Ireland’s Eye and Lambay — are now overrun with rats.

“So you do have the gulls nesting around the city,” says Hatch.

“Obviously, they’re learning to associate people with food which is never a good thing,” — but he says there’s no question of any particular stand-off between gulls and mallards.

They’re around because of food, they’re around because it’s a source of fresh water, and they’re around because it’s a place to hang out in a predator-free environment.

The gulls are at the end of their nesting season at this time of year too, so anyone who visits the park will notice a fair few young gulls splashing around with their parents (presumably having recently flown down from the eves of BT2).

Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

All of which is fair enough…

But where are the ducks? 

Well, this is where it gets really interesting [at least, to us --- if you're reading this and you happen to be an ornithologist, you're not going to learn anything you don't already know].

Apparently, there’s still plenty of ducks around the city centre — they’re just keeping a lower profile.

“After breeding season they’re flightless,” Hatch explains.

They stick to the shadows and become less visible.

Ducks are at the end of their nesting season too, you see — which means it’s time to shed their old feathers, and grow some shiny new ones.

This renders them flightless, and at greater risk to predators for a number of weeks — so they tend to lurk away from the limelight.

They’re still around, but they’d be at the edges of canals, and in reeds and the like.

The distinctive male mallards also lose their colourful green plumage during this period too — rendering them far less eye-catching.

AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

So ducks haven’t been run out of town, it seems.

Visit the park in the winter months and they’ll be far more noticeable — and there’ll be far fewer gulls around too, as they become less territorial and head off to the coast to seek better food sources.

In the meantime, the two species may still take each other on to secure bread products and other treats from toddlers, tourists and (in the seagulls’ case) inattentive sandwich eaters.

But – says Hatch:

We’d never recommend birds be fed bread anyway — it’s not a good food source.

[Note: Did you know herring gulls are a protected species in Ireland? Well, they are (though that doesn't mean you have to like them). Read our Dublin 'Gullsplainer' here.]

Gullsplainer: Are seagulls losing the run of themselves?

Read: A senator wants something done about ‘raucous seagulls stealing children’s lollipops’

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