As seagulls continue to swarm my coastal town of Kinsale, I have been consistently flashing back to the time a very traumatised friend had a croissant stolen right out of her mouth on route to work. Watching countless staycationers stamp and duck around the pier this week, I’m sure she’s not the only one.
The constant battle between beachgoers and seagulls will never truly end, but as studies show there is a way you can avoid those pesky birds on your next seaside trip.
The surprising answer to our woes: staring.
In a study from the University of Exeter, scientists found that seagulls swoop in when victims aren’t looking at them.
During tests, three-quarters of the birds flocked away from food when a human locked eyes with them. Those that did approach took an extra 21 seconds to sneak up while under a watchful gaze.
It’s solid advice to keep in mind, seeing that callouts to pest control companies regarding seagulls have increased 50% this year.
“This is the period when people and gulls are most likely to cross paths, and it is also when they are at their most aggressive,” Richard Faulkner, an Advanced Technical Field Consultant for Rentokil, said when speaking of summertime infestations.
The reason they’re on the up around our food? Humans, of course.
“Here are animals that can adapt quickly, learn, and take advantage of a resource while its available,” Andrew Farnsworth of Cornell’s Ornithology Lab told National Geographic.
“Unlike for most wild animals, we’ve actually expanded their habitat and food sources with our behavior. Gulls are excellent opportunists and will keep coming back if they find something good.”
Other things to keep in mind next time you hear squawking? When eating outdoors, try to do so in a covered area.
Experts also say that sitting against a wall can help avoid surprise attacks and keeping food close to your body will give them fewer angles to swoop in. Dispose of rubbish or leftovers immediately.
If you’re going to the beach, keep all snacks in containers out of sight in a zipped-up bag, taking out only to eat.
Zip rubbish back into the bag and if you drop a piece of food you can’t pick up, bury it deep in the sand. Most importantly – don’t feed the gulls.
There are more advanced methods to deterring gulls – scarecrows, specialised noise machines, and employing sheepdogs – as well as some more controversial experiments, such as wearing the colour red.
Careful eating, a vigilant eye, and, apparently, a good stare down should do the trick, however.
If all else fails, stamping is a tried and tested method that has worked for years. Just don’t injure the poor buggers.