I was lucky enough to recently have the chance to join well acclaimed Gull expert, Peter Rock, on the rooftops of Bristol to ring some young Gull chicks.
Peter's knowledge of these intriguing birds is in my opinion, second-to-none. His advice and experience has been sought after by many, including BBC's Springwatch and through countless interviews with Britain's newspapers.
He was very generous with his knowledge and his passion for what he does was very clear. Even though many consider these birds as pests and as dangerous scavengers (myself included previous to this experience!), they really do have an incredibly fascinating life above the busy city.
But why are they here and not out at sea as their name suggests? Well that is the main reason that Peter rings these chicks with individual rings. By giving them clear identities, he can keep track of their habits and location. Peter told me that there are birds in Bristol that he ringed before I was even born in the early 90's.
By just looking at the rooftops, where these birds nest, it becomes rapidly clear as to the reason for the big move to the city. The ground is scattered with chicken bones. Where Gulls would originally have searched the coasts for fish (which many still do) they have now taken your 'Bargain Bucket'! It is as simple as that - they have found areas where they can nest in safety high above the dangerous bustle of city life and yet be close enough for an easy meal of scraps that you and I throw away everyday.
As we stood on the roof, looking for other birds that Peter had ringed in the area, the parents of the chicks would constantly mob us with aerial attacks and deafening screeches.
The chicks stayed rather calm in the corners of the roof by their nests and were easy for Peter to catch and place carefully within a Gull sized bag. This may seem cruel but once the Gull can't see us - it believes we cant see it and will become perfectly calm and docile.
Peter then continued to measure the birds to get an idea of age and gender (the males have much larger heads) before attaching not only a BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) certified ring but also a larger coloured ring of his own design which would be much easier to spot.
Click images to enlarge.
Peter will use a different coloured ring each year with a unique code on each so that he can tell when each bird was ringed.
I photographed this Herring Gull (right) while he was working away and when I showed him the image, he straight away told me it was one of his from 2002.
If you look carefully you will see the small silver BTO ring on the birds left leg, whilst on it's right leg is Peter's light green ring with the unique code M:H.
Click images to enlarge.
Unfortunately, the council have been trying to discourage Gull activity in the cities by replacing some eggs with fakes in the hope that the Gulls will not lay any more eggs once these fakes don't hatch. This doesn't however, have much effect on the population size and is a pointless task.
This is just a cruel alternative to straight culling due to the Seabird Protection Act. Other methods used are large nets that are erected over the tops of buildings. This may discourage nesting on that particular building, however, those that are lucky enough not to get stuck in the netting and die will simply find somewhere else to nest.
I think it is about time that the council starts respecting wildlife and leave it be. Overreaction and anger towards a species that most do not understand are the main reasons for complaints against Gulls - personally I do not believe this is good enough to endanger a living birds life.