For the Birds Radio Program: Gulls: Duluth Audubon's forum

Original Air Date: Nov. 20, 1987

Laura explains the new Duluth Audubon statement about efforts to decrease the local gull population.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Ring-billed Gull)

Most of the Ring-billed Gulls are gone from the Northland for the season. This year their departure coincided exactly with the Duluth mayoral campaign–apparently there was more garbage floating around than even scavenger gulls could swallow. Herring Gulls are still hanging around–they often dine at the dump all winter, joined by a few relatives from the far north like Thayer’s and Glaucous Gulls.

Last week the Duluth Audubon Society held a forum about the gull population level in Duluth. There is good evidence that the population is leveling off, both in our area and in the entire Great Lakes region, but for some reason fear of them still seems to be rising. A lot of people are genuinely frightened of birds, especially ones as big and intrepid as hungry gulls, and the Duluth media’s frequent references this summer to Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “The Birds,” sure didn’t help.

I like gulls. They provide a taste of the wild to city people who don’t know a hawk from a handsaw. In flight they’re incomparably lovely. They’re as much a part of a harbor city like Duluth as the lake itself, and decrying their presence does about as much good as bellyaching about the weather.

But even as I root for them, I realize that there may be some legitimate complaints against gulls. Unfortunately, it’s often hard to distinguish between complaints based on reality and ones based on hysteria. At a city council meeting this summer, one assertion was that the gulls are causing serious traffic accidents at several places in Duluth as motorists swerve to avoid hitting them. But when I called the police department’s traffic bureau, they said that not one accident report on file implicated gulls. A lot of people are saying that gulls are hard for the restaurant business in town, but Mike Graves, the manager of the Burger King at Canal Park, says even though they’re sometimes a nuisance, they don’t seem to hurt his business. Local newspaper reports this summer mentioned that gulls may be transmitting disease, but so far I haven’t found any documented evidence that gulls are a significant human disease vector anywhere. The possibility that the increase of gulls is implicated in the decrease in Duluth’s Common Terns and Piping Plovers seems to be the most reasonable complaint against them, but even here no cause and effect relationship has been shown–development in the Port Terminal is certainly the most important factor in the decline of terns and plovers. Duluth’s human population has also decreased as the gulls increased, but no one is throwing the blame for that on the gulls–at least not so far.

Duluth Audubon Society’s Conservation Committee has developed a policy statement about the gull population: “If a legitimate, scientifically documented case can be made that the gull population level 1) endangers human health; 2) causes severe economic damage; or 3) seriously threatens other native bird populations, then we will certainly support efforts to reduce their numbers in a humane and legal way through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s permit system. But until scientific evidence can be produced documenting a serious problem, we recommend that no action be taken against them.”

Meanwhile, it’s nice to consider the difference between a ring-billed gull and a Wall Street Stock broker–the gull is the one that can still make a deposit on a BMW.

(Recording of a Ring-billed Gull) This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”