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Seagulls are a standard sight near every coastal area. They swoop across the beach, their eyes locking in quickly on any dropped ice-creams or unattended toddler with a ham sandwich.
Despite their prevalent nature, their nests and young are not seen often. Seagull juveniles don’t leave the nest till they are fully feathered, able to fly, and can forage for themselves.
Even the gregarious seagull likes to tuck their nests and babies away from potential predators and nest on cliffs, dunes, and islands. Many gulls have also adapted to urban life, utilizing the roofs as nesting sites.
Seagulls are highly adaptable and will nest anywhere they feel safe in their local habitat. Naturally, this tends to be dunes and cliffs, with some species taking to the trees.
With the development of towns and cities focused on coastal areas, they quickly adapted to an urban way of life and are frequently found nesting on buildings and gutters.
Dunes are a natural place for seagulls to nest. The warm sand provides insulation for young chicks, and the site is close to the sea for parents returning with food. Dunes are naturally covered in dune plants which offer protection from the elements and a visual barrier from predators.
However, dune habitats are widely disrupted by human activity such as coastal development and foot traffic over dunes. Areas with a high human population are not suited for dune nesting.
Coastal cliffs offer large surface areas for the communal nesting of seagulls. Each pair can occupy a small territory within a larger nesting area. Developing young learn to interact with others by their interaction with nearby nests.
Cliffs offer protection from human influence, but chicks risk falling to their death if they wander too far from the nest too early. Cliffs are also in high competition for gulls and other seabird species, particularly with other nesting sites infiltrated by humans.
While manufactured buildings are not a natural nesting site for gulls, these species have adapted to the conditions presented. With natural nesting sites dwindling, populations have turned to the high points of buildings.
Large groups of seagulls like to nest on building roofs and gutters. While this set-up suits them nicely, it causes a great deal of conflict with unhappy humans who despise the smell and noise of seagull colonies.
A single pair of nesting seagulls can be obnoxious enough on our roof, but their social nesting behaviors make them disruptive to urban areas.
Seagull pairs congregate in colonies which may range from just a few pairs to hundreds or thousands. They often return to the same nesting site yearly.
Large gatherings offer safety for vulnerable gulls and provide vital socializing time for courtship and bonding. Within the colony, pairs will defend a small territory from 0.5–5m and squabble loudly with nearby nests for space.
While a seagull can be loud and bothersome to humans any time of the year, especially as you try to eat a quiet lunch next to the ocean, they are particularly noisy during the breeding season.
Courtship, territory establishment, and raising babies is a noisy (and smelly) affair.
Most gulls mate between March and April and begin building their nest shortly after. They have around a month to prepare themselves before laying eggs in May.
Incubation averages at three weeks, and the sweet squawking babies don’t leave the nest until six weeks old. These enormous babies wait until they are fully feathered and can fly before they venture out; even then, they follow their parents on the beach, yelling incessantly for food.
By July, things tend to quiet down, and they prepare to brave the winter, just to do it all over again next year.
Despite being coined as annoying and disruptive, seagulls are protected. Technically, they are migratory birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
This act protects them from being hunted or killed at any time of the year and makes it illegal to move or disturb their nests in the breeding season.
The problem many coastal dwellers face is the effect nesting seagulls have on their property and the legalities of getting rid of them.
A professional pest or animal control officer can help you with established nests. They must have a license to relocate protected birds safely and ethically. You will likely have to justify that the birds are causing a disturbance or posing a threat; their noise and droppings are usually enough.
Aim to prevent seagulls from nesting on your property at all with these tips:
While often thought of as annoying for beachgoers and coastal inhabitants, seagulls are native residents to the coast and have every right to be there as you do. We can be respectful neighbors by steering clear of cliffs and dunes housing nesting sites and ethically removing nests from our properties.
Featured Image Credit: 12019, Pixabay
After an early start in the veterinary industry and as a conservation educator at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida, Sophie has since been a successful Zookeeper and Conservationist, specializing in native New Zealand species. When she isn't bird watching in native forests, she can be found with her husband on their sheep and beef station, far from civilization. Sophie enjoys her writing career as it provides opportunities to help and support pet owners of all kinds and getting to research and write about a broad range of topics. The only downside is the long list of strange searches in her internet history!
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