Herring Gulls: control of roof nesting
Since the 1970s the number of roof nesting gulls has steadily increased. There are several species of gulls which can be seen locally and to many people they are all just 'seagulls', but in our area only the herring gull commonly nests on buildings.
It should, however, be noted that occasionally other birds that might be mistaken for herring gulls can nest in built up areas. These other 'roof nesters' are discussed in the section Herring gulls and the law.
Many people who have gulls on their property find they cause a nuisance and commonly cited problems include:
- Noise, caused by calling gulls and by their heavy footsteps
- Mess, caused by their droppings, fouling of washing, gardens and people
- Damage to property, caused by gulls picking at roofing materials and by nests which block gutters or hold moisture against the building structure
Sometimes more serious problems occur such as:
- Birds can dive and swoop on people and pets. This usually occurs when chicks have fallen from the nest and adult birds attempt to prevent them coming to harm by frightening away potential threats
- Blockage of gas flues, valley and parapet gutters by nesting materials. The former can have serious consequences if gas fumes are prevented from venting properly, or if flooding occurs as a result of blocked gutters
The majority of people who have gulls nesting on their property don't refer to them as herring gulls but as 'seagulls' because most of us do not stop to differentiate between one type of gull and another. Most species of gull do not nest on buildings and, in our area only the herring gull does so commonly.
Herring gulls are large birds, measuring about 55cm (22") from bill to tail with a wingspan of about 85cm (34").
Breeding pairs court in April and commence nest building from early May onwards. In towns, the nest is constructed from straw and grass, twigs, paper and any other material the gull can conveniently use. The nest can be quite large and, if made of material accumulated over several years, very heavy.
Eggs are laid from early May onwards with two or three being the usual number. The eggs take about three weeks to hatch so the first chicks are generally seen about the beginning of June.
The chicks grow quickly and are quite active often falling from the nest. In towns this almost certainly means they cannot return to the nest. Small chicks will die unless returned but larger chicks will be protected and fed by their parents on the ground. Parent birds protecting fallen checks are often the ones which dive and swoop on people and animals who often do not realise a chick is down on the ground.
Chicks generally fledge in August and then take three or four years to reach maturity and breed. The life expectancy of a herring gull which reaches maturity is about 20 years.
Herring gulls tend to nest in colonies and once roof nesting birds gain a foothold other herring gulls nest on adjacent buildings. If left unchecked, a colony starts to develop.
Herring gulls and the law
The principal legislation dealing with the control of birds is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The purpose of this section is to provide advice on the law but it is a guide only and is not meant to be authoritative.
Generally it is illegal to capture, injure or destroy any wild bird or interfere with its nest or eggs. The penalties for disregarding the law can be severe. No action may be taken against the gulls themselves, and it is illegal to kill or otherwise harm them. In the event of a prosecution the maximum fine is £5000 and or a six month prison sentence.
However, only when there is a need to preserve public health or public safety authorised persons may take, damage or destroy herring gull nests; or take or destroy herring gull eggs. Such actions are not legal if the problem being addressed is noisy gulls or gulls damaging property. No action may be taken unless the authorised person is satisfied that alternative methods to resolve the problem, such as scaring and proofing, are ineffective or impracticable.
Only the owner of a building or the occupier can take action against the herring gulls on it but they can give someone else permission to act on their behalf.
Visit Natural England for full details on preventing damage to your property from wild birds.
A word of warning
Whilst the gulls which nest on buildings are usually herring gulls there are several other gull species which occasionally nest on buildings. Lesser black-backed gulls may also nest on roofs in the south of England, they are very similar in shape and size to herring gulls but darker in colour.
Lesser black-backs can lawfully be treated in the same way as herring gulls although some conservationists argue that they nest so rarely in towns that they should be left undisturbed.
If you have any doubts about what kind of 'gull' is nesting on your property ask someone who knows and use the Natural England website to ensure any actions you propose are legal for that species.
Control of food sources
Colonies are undoubtedly encouraged to develop by regular feeding. If gulls are fed regularly it will create an artificially high population and encourage further breeding pairs to take up residence in an area. Additionally most of the foods artificially fed to gulls are a very poor substitute for their natural diet and this can cause the birds harm. A natural population level will only be established if the gulls are left to fend for themselves from natural food sources.
Gulls will also scavenge readily on poorly stored household rubbish. If you are not currently included in our wheeled bin scheme and store your rubbish outdoors, you are strongly urged to use heavy duty plastic or steel rubbish containers with close fitting lids to store it until collection.
The practice of leaving rubbish outside in flimsy black bags will provide a plentiful food supply and must be avoided as much as possible. If you have to present your rubbish for collection in black bags then we would encourage you to use better quality bags that are less likely to split. Bags of rubbish should only be put out for 7am on the day of collection and must not be put out overnight.
Proofing of buildings
All owners/occupiers of buildings which have, or may attract, roof nesting herring gulls are strongly urged to provide the building with deterrent measures suitable to the individual building.
If as many owners/occupiers as possible apply deterrent measures to their buildings, it may be possible to reduce or break up the colonies of birds.
Deterrence may also provide relief to individual occupiers.
The design and installation of any deterrent system is something that must be undertaken by specialists. If systems are installed incorrectly birds may come to harm and the property owner may face prosecution for allowing it to happen. You may wish to consider contacting the British Pest Control Association for a list of members able to do this work.
If you require advice or assistance visit www.naturalengland.org.uk.
Please contact us for further advice or information on any matter relating to Environmental Protection.