They are already the scourge of the seaside day tripper, mounting mobbing raids on those enjoying fish and chips.
Now, with the coronavirus lockdown and all but essential travel banned, coastal residents are being warned seagulls could be more aggressive than usual because of a drop in their preferred food source.
“Residents are asked not to eat on the seafront areas, to encourage the birds to fend for themselves away from towns.”
Scavenging herring gulls are a regular feature in the council’s main resorts of Bridlington, Hornsea and Withernsea. “Particularly Bridlington because it’s a harbour, and an attractive and popular feature,” said a council spokesman. “Even on a normal weekend, in normal times, you would expect to be fending off gulls if you’re sitting there, having your fish and chips next to the harbour. So, that is a notorious spot for gulls anyway.”
Though as yet there has been no evidence of an increase in attacks, the spokesman added: “We are quite concerned that it may become a problem, with birds dive-bombing and chips being taken from your hand.”
The council is warning visitors to stay away. “Our message is please don’t go to the coast this weekend. Local residents can do their daily exercise on the seafront, he added, but if they do, don’t have fish and chips in your hand.
“Herring gulls are creatures of habit and they pass their local knowledge on to their young. So, if we can adopt this behaviour now, and have a generation of young gulls who haven’t relied on human food, then theoretically it could be possible to break the cycle, and in future people would be more able to eat on the seafront without being mugged. That is a positive to come out of this.”
Peter Rock, an expert on urban gulls and a research associate at the University of Bristol, said the gulls would still find food. “They are very, very resourceful.
“The large gulls know everything there is to know about everything within their home range. It behoves the sensible gull to know where to get food, exactly when, and how; where dustbins are being emptied into dustcarts, when black plastic bin bags are going out on to the street,” he said.
“I don’t think we are going to see too much in the way of increased aggression to the one person walking around with a pasty in his hand in Cornwall. They are not all going to pile in and attack this one person. Because apart from staying alive, the most important thing a gull can do in its life is breed. If it gets involved in some kind of scrap, the possibility is it might get damaged. And that’s almost certainly the end of this year’s breeding career, and very likely the end of its life. So they are very prudent.”