Appendix C: What to do with a complaint about protected wildlife species
Gulls (family Laridae)
Most common in New York:
- Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis (most common of the four species
described in this account. Likely to nest on flat roofs.)
- Herring gull, L. argentatus (common, especially around coastal
Less common, but may cause some complaints:
- Laughing gull, L. atricilla (very limited range in NY, found in
western Long Island. Of these four gulls, they're the most likely to be found
near airports. There's an infamous colony at J.F.K. Airport.)
- Great black-backed gull, L. marinus (Although any of these gulls
may eat the eggs and young of other seabirds, including endangered species,
the great black-backed is so much larger than the others that it poses more
of a threat.)
Laughing gull is the smallest, at 16–17" high. Next is the ring-billed,
then the herring, with the great black-backed gull standing 28–31"
Signs of their presence:
- The bird itself is the most obvious sign.
- Feathers and droppings.
- Sounds: Varied, depending on species. May hear the kleew kleew, hiyak, kyow,
the ha ha ha of the laughing gull, a plaintive mewing, and a stacatto gah
gah alarm call.
- Nest: Size is proportional to the size of the bird. They'll nest in low
trees and on flat roofs, especially those covered with gravel or rocks. The
nests are often a mere scrape in sand or gravel, but they will add natural
materials and bits of trash. Herring gulls make the most elaborate nests of
the four, using sticks, other plants, and debris. Ring-billed gulls also use
debris, but they favor lighter plant materials, such as dried grasses and
Opportunist. Gulls eat fish; shellfish; bird eggs and nestlings (they prey
mostly on seabirds); insects; worms; grubs; mice; carrion; and garbage. They
will steal food out of a person's hand.
Typical activity patterns:
Social style: Gregarious. Most are colonial nesters.
Daily activity: Diurnal.
Migrates? In the spring, they'll migrate north
as the ice breaks open on lakes and rivers. In late spring, they'll seek a more
secluded area, such as an island, for breeding. In late summer, they'll gather
along the coast and then migrate south with the onset of cold weather. Some
gulls remain all year, spending the winter near the open water of oceans or
estuaries, the Great Lakes, and the Niagara River. Most gulls no longer migrate
far, because people provide abundant, year-round food sources.
Distribution in NY and the Northeast: Widespread,
from coastal to inland areas.
Habitat: Lakes, rivers, beaches, estuaries, mudflats,
islands, harbors, ponds. Gulls adapt well to rural, suburban, and urban environments
and will use agricultural fields, fish hatcheries, airports, landfills, reservoirs,
parking lots, flat roofs, parks, malls, and athletic fields. In the winter,
gulls seek open water, moving to the ocean, estuaries, and the Great Lakes.
The Niagara River is a major wintering area for gulls.
Territory and home range: Highly territorial
on their breeding ground, defending their nest sites, which they'll likely return
to the next year. Prime territories are in the center of the colony.
Pair bonding style: Monogamous. Both parents
care for the young.
Breeding dates: April–May.
Egg-laying dates: May–June. Most have one
Clutch size: 3–5 eggs.
Eggs hatch: 21–28 days after they're laid.
Fledging dates: 4–5 weeks.
Amount of time young remain with parents beyond fledging
date: Remain with colony.
Common nuisance situations:
Time of year: Any time of year.
What are they doing?
- Steal fish from boats and hatcheries.
- They are involved with more aircraft collisions than any other group of
birds, because they're plentiful, widespread, gather in large flocks, and
are large birds.
- Eat livestock feed and fruits (such as cherries).
- Gather in large numbers in parking lots, near restaurants, marinas, food-processing
plants, and parks. Their droppings foul objects and buildings. They can be
- If they gather in large numbers, their droppings can contaminate public
- Mob people, trying to steal food from them.
- They may eat the eggs and nestlings of endangered seabirds, such as the
- They sometimes cause a nuisance when they nest on rooftops.
- Disease risks: cryptosporidosis, E. coli bacteria
Legal status in New York:
Federally protected migratory birds (under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act).
Federal and state permits are required to capture, handle, or kill gulls, or
disturb their eggs or nests (if there are eggs or young in the nest). Most gull
management is handled by USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services or state agencies, under
the direction of the USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services.
A landowner may chase or disperse gulls at any time without a permit, as long
as the gulls are not physically harmed.
Control techniques marked by this color (blue) require
a federal and state permit. Control measures that affect wetlands may require
other permits. Those techniques are marked by this color
(orange). Contact the DEC Bureau of Wetlands for information.
Questions about controlling nuisance gulls should be directed to your regional
DEC wildlife staff or to:
Rich Chipman, State Director
1930 Route 9, Castleton, NY 12033-9653.
Call (518) 477-4837.
Often, community cooperation is critical for effective solutions to nuisance
problems caused by gulls. If you're confronted with a large colony nesting on
a rooftop or at a landfill or airport, work with government wildlife biologists,
because they have the option of using additional techniques that require federal
permits. In some cases, these techniques are far more effective, or are an important
part of the strategy. If this is a new problem, you may be able to deal with
it successfully using only the techniques that don't require permits.
Remove artificial food sources (garbage, livestock feed, fish
from hatcheries and boats):
- It's not easy to control their food sources because gulls are highly adaptable,
but you don't have to put out the fine china, either. Focus on the areas that
provide their most favored foods and restrict the gulls' access as much as
- If anyone is feeding the gulls, persuade them to stop.
- Clean up any garbage piles. Keep garbage cans and dumpsters closed securely,
and the areas around the containers clean.
- Gulls also feed at fish docks, sewer outflows, food processing plants, trawlers,
and feedlots. Keep those areas clean and try to frighten the birds away.
- Use a grid-wire network of highly visible stainless steel wire (28 gauge)
or 80-lb. nylon monofilament line to protect large outdoor areas, such as
fish hatcheries, garbage dumps, landfills, reservoirs, livestock feedlots,
and fields. String the lines parallel to each other, about 15 feet apart and
about 8 feet off the ground (a 15x15' grid also works well). This technique
is highly successful with gulls.
Make roosting and loafing sites less appealing:
- Turn off fountains to encourage earlier freeze-up of ponds.
- Let the grass grow to a height of 8" or more to discourage gulls from
resting in parks, playing fields, airports, and around ponds. This may work
for ring-billed and laughing gulls but not herring gulls.
- Filling or draining ponds, such as those near malls and office
parks, may discourage gulls. With natural wetlands, this would require additional
- To keep them off ledges:
- fasten wood, stone, sheet metal, styrofoam, or plexiglass "plates"
to the ledge at a 45° angle so they can't comfortably perch there.
- Install one of the sharply pointed, steel exclusion devices, such as
porcupine wire (prongs point out in many angles), ECOPIC™ (vertical
rods), Bird Coil® (a steel coil that looks like a slinky), or nets.
- Stretch steel wire (28-gauge) or monofilament line (80-pound) in parallel
lines across the area. The lines must be very tight, so fasten the wires
to L-brackets with turn buckles to remove slack. Attach the brackets to
the wall using cable clamps or aircraft hose clamps, which can handle
the high torque load on the wires. (Commercial versions are available,
too, and may be easier to use.) Steel wire is more permanent and requires
less maintenance than monofilament line.
- To keep them off rooftops or away from parking lots and other flat areas:
Install a 15x15 ft. grid-wire network (described earlier) or nets.
Frighten them away:
- Visual scare devices, such as helikites (a kite with an attached balloon)
or a laser (the Avian Dissauder®) may frighten the birds away from the
- Try noisemakers such as tape-recorded gull distress and alarm calls, shell
crackers, and propane cannons. They're most effective when the birds are airborne.
- Hazing, with trained birds of prey (usually falcons) or radio-controlled
aircraft that look like falcons may also work. This technique is often used
NWCOs with a commercial pesticide applicator license:
- Nontoxic repellent: Gulls don't like to land on surfaces that have been
treated with sticky polybutene repellents. But polybutenes can affect other
species, and they can be messy and hard to remove. For these reasons, consider
restricting your use of this tool to indoor applications. And how often do
gulls cause problems indoors? You have better options.
- Toxic repellent: Avitrol® is registered for use against
gulls in New York, except for New York City, where it cannot be used. This
restricted-use pesticide is available in a whole-corn bait mixture. Here's
how it works. Gulls that eat the treated grain will behave erratically or
gives warning cries, frightening the others in the flock. The birds that eat
the Avitrol usually die. (The erratic behavior may distress onlookers, so
this isn't recommended for use in public areas such as beaches or around restaurants.
Its use is best limited to places with restricted access, such as landfills.)
Like any lethal technique, this pesticide must be used carefully. If another
animal ate a poisoned gull, it might sicken or die.
Control their reproduction by removing their nests or disturbing
their eggs so they don't hatch:
- NWCOs are unlikely to be involved with these efforts, but here's an overview.
Many factors influence the control strategy, including the size of the colony,
how long the birds have nested at that site, and whether the goal is to chase
them away or to stop them from breeding. Let's say the wildlife biologists
will be removing eggs as part of their gull management. If the gulls have
just chosen a new site, the wildlife biologists may remove eggs as soon as
they're laid because the gulls may just fly off and seek a better breeding
site. But if it's a large colony that's well-established, the gulls will not
easily abandon the site. In this case, the biologists may focus on trying
to break their breeding cycle, instead. They may wait until the birds have
been incubating for a week or two before they remove the eggs, because then
the gulls will be less likely to lay more eggs. The biologists may repeat
the egg removal after another two weeks.
- Egg disturbance techniques (oiling, addling, puncturing, or removing eggs,
or substituting dummy eggs) are most effective when the colony is small. With
larger populations, some of these techniques, such as addling, puncturing,
and substituting dummy eggs, are probably impractical because they're labor-intensive
and time-consuming. Also, you'd need to tamper with nearly every egg to ensure
success, and that grows more challenging with larger flocks.
- One disadvantage of these techniques is that if they may take several years
to work—if they work at all. New birds might join the flock, increasing
the numbers you're trying to reduce. Birds that fail to hatch eggs successfully
might move to a new breeding area and cause a nuisance there, so this approach
might not be neighborly. Some biologists believe that gulls that have taken
to nesting on roof tops will continue to seek roof tops, for example. In such
cases, they recommend removing the adult birds.
- Of all these egg disturbance techniques, the only ones that
are really practical in most situations involving gulls are removing the eggs
outright or oiling them. Generally, the colony is just too large for the other
- Oiling eggs: Coating eggs with corn oil prevents gases from
passing through the shell so the embryo suffocates. The eggs are either sprayed
with oil or dipped into a container of oil, then put back into the nest so
the parents will continue incubating them. If the eggs are removed, the gulls
usually seek a more secure area in which to lay another clutch. In an established
colony, if used by itself, this technique may not eliminate the problem.
- Removal of eggs: If it's at least 1–2 weeks into the
incubation, the eggs can probably be removed without prompting the female
to renest. She may be less biologically able to lay eggs, but don't count
on it. Return in two weeks to remove any new eggs. Once the gulls are off
the nest, try to move them. If there are no chicks, you can harrass them with
such techniques as hazing. If there are chicks, you cannot harass them without
federal and state permits. Then install a barrier, such as a net, to keep
the gulls from landing in the area. If you can't install an exclusion device
you may need to repeatedly remove the eggs, but in time, this treatment may
convince the gulls to abandon the site.
- Nest removal: If there are no eggs or young in the nest you would not need
a federal permit as long as you do not accidentally take birds. The gulls
will often attempt to find a more secure nesting area and start again, so
expect to repeat this treatment every two weeks. Eventually, this may convince
the colony to abandon the site.
It's unlikely that a NWCO will trap gulls to solve a nuisance problem, because
of several practical issues. Permits would be required, from both the US Fish
and Wildlife Service and the DEC. You need specialized equipment, and it tends
to take a lot of time and effort. Gulls are likely to return to the site, too.
The nonlethal methods described in this account are a much more practical approach
to dealing with the problem, especially in urban areas.
- USDA-APHIS-WS staff may use a highly restricted drug, alpha-chloralose,
to capture gulls, or to disperse flocks.
Preferred killing methods:
- Requires a federal depredation permit from the U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service and a state permit from the DEC.
- Shooting, using a shotgun or rifle
Acceptable killing methods:
- There are toxic pesticides registered for the control of nesting
gulls (herring, ring-billed, and great black-backed gulls) in some areas.
- Stunning and cervical dislocation
- Stunning and decapitation
Control strategies that don't work particularly well, or aren't legal in New York:
- Ultrasonics don't work. Birds can't hear them.
Next Species (Woodpecker)