‘Hyper-aggressive' seabirds force Marseille to take action

Some say the gulls ‘represent the city’ but authorities now have permission to act to reduce their number

A yellow-legged gull eats a rodent on the roof of a car in Marseille
The yellow-legged gulls are a common sight in Marseille, but authorities are now aiming to reduce their number
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If you have ever had food stolen by a passing seagull, you may be pleased to hear that Marseille authorities are stepping up action to reduce the number of aggressive birds in the city’s public space.

The birds’ true name is the ‘gabian’, a species of gull that is usually protected. Also sometimes known as the ‘yellow-legged gull’, it is common around the city and the department’s areas of natural beauty, such as the Calanques.

The Bouches-du-Rhône prefecture has now issued a waiver to this protection, meaning that the Marseille Mairie can regulate the birds’ presence in its city, in a bid to reduce their aggression and the nuisances they can cause to residents and street-users.

There are around 24,000 gulls in the Marseille seafront area, making this one of the highest concentrations of the birds in Europe. They are a common sight flying over the city, and tend to congregate near bins and people eating or drinking.

One resident said that the birds “represent the city” but another told FranceInfo that they “have no fear”, are “hyper-aggressive" and eat rats and pigeons, leaving the remains on the streets.

The main way to deter the birds from staying near humans is to keep the streets clean, not leave rubbish outside during the day, and to take away their sources of food, the mayor’s office has said.

Read more: Solar bins crush rubbish in Nice to end overflowing waste on streets

"We're calling on the public not to feed the gulls," said Jean-Yves Sayag, cleanliness delegate for the Aix-Marseille metropolitan authority. “It’s a simple gesture: respect the times when you take out your household rubbish. Do it at 19:00.

“Some people do it at 6:00 or 7:00, and then complain that there are gulls or other birds,” he said.

Marseille has also captured more than 700 gulls over the past three years, with more than half having been euthanised. Almost 180 eggs have been destroyed.

‘Bird bluffing’

The gulls have a wingspan of around 1.5 metres, and can appear scary - but they are not dangerous, said Anaël Marchas, legal mediator at the bird protection office the Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux (LPO).

He said: “When there are interactions, most of it is the bird bluffing. The main problems are the sneak [thefts], cawing, and droppings. The number of cases where birds have actually attacked can be counted on the fingers of one hand.”

He added that there are a few ways to reduce the birds’ numbers humanely.

These include sterilising the eggs to stop them developing, putting rods on the top of buildings to deter nests, and making nests inhospitable. He added that euthanasia should only also be used in “specific cases, such as when birds are injured”.

The LPO said that the presence of gulls is simply “a reflection of our [own] bad behaviour”, and that gulls should not be blamed for responding to human activity.

Birds everywhere

Aggressive gulls and other nuisance birds have also been noted as a problem in other cities in France.

This includes in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes), where gulls have previously been found shot or poisoned (illegally) by residents. In Trouville-sur-Mer (Calvados), authorities have even used a drone to treat eggs with a solution to stop them from hatching.

In Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), Harris’s hawks were even used to “keep pigeons and gulls as far away as possible from tables” on hotel terraces.

In Calais (Pas-de-Calais), authorities spent more than €15,000 on a mass gull egg-sterilisation programme, and residents were also encouraged to install anti-bird devices on chimney tops.

However, in Cherbourg (Manche), authorities had been spending €30,000 per year on nest sterilisation, but stopped after more than 10 years, claiming that the method was not effective.

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