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Fish 'n' Tips

What's up with the gulls?

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As September begins and another year of school commences, many Cornish towns feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of mid-August madness. But whilst the sun-seeking visitors move on and the towns return to quiet, there is one resident who remains a consistently noisy presence throughout the year. The seagull. Identified by their distinctive call and love of leftover food, for many, the seagull is the defining feature of the English seaside.

As a busy seaside town, St Ives is unsurprisingly home to thousands of gulls from a number of different species, with the Herring Gull being the species that most consider the archetypal 'seagull'. Herring Gulls can live for over 30 years and normally form lifelong pairings, and as a result they are typically fierce protectors of their offspring. Like any animal in its infancy, seagull chicks rely on their parents as a food source and with the huge influx of visitors to St Ives over the summer months, gulls will quite happily swoop down and snaffle up a few of your chips whilst you sit admiring the view.

In St Ives, the gulls' propensity for daylight robbery has become an increasing problem for summer revellers, and the St Ives Business Improvement District (BID) have begun to take steps to ensure the town's image as a holiday destination is not affected by hungry Herring Gulls.

Enter - 'The Daily Gull'. This 'newspaper' is a large printed sheet of greaseproof wrap for takeaways on the sea front, produced by St Ives BID in collaboration with Dr Viola Ross-Smith, a seabird expert from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The wrapping has been offering visitors hints and tips on understanding gulls, especially their warning calls.

Frustratingly, learning 'gull language' doesn't actually mean you can communicate with seagulls, but it may help you identify the intentions of a nearby gull and give you time to scarper before a confrontation erupts.

The trick to keeping your picnic safe is awareness. Here are the Daily Gull's top 5 tips:

1.Look up, make eye contact and acknowledge the gulls.

2.Never share your food with gulls – check out the many signs around town.

3.Clear away your litter as much as possible – take your plates with leftover food back into cafes instead of leaving them for the gulls to feast on

4.Gulls are not 'attacking' when they dive for food. A competitive feeding frenzy might seem like an 'attack', but it isn't. Gulls only attack when their eggs or chicks are in danger.

5.Learn the language. Take a look at the list below and check out the signs around town for more tips on ensuring that gulls don't bother you when you're eating.

4 typical gull calls you can recognise:

1.The Long Call (head back, loud call, beak wide open): Often a warning to other gulls that this particular patch of territory (or restaurant table) belongs to a gull pair. Wings can be held up and out to warn other gulls who land nearby. This call can appear 'contagious' and spread through a group of gulls.

2.The Mew (a little like a cat): An affectionate bonding call exchanged between pairs of gulls when one returns to the nest after foraging.

3.The Machine Gun call (short, persistent bursts): This is the gull call for danger and one that humans must heed. A bird makes this call when it sees a threat – perhaps a dog or human too close to its nest. This call can precede dive-bombing close to heads or (rarely) a 'poo run', so it pays to look up to see where the sound is coming from and move away from the bird if it is calling persistently, particularly if it's in flight.

4.The Whine : This is the sound a chick makes when it's begging, and is a sign that any adults nearby could be territorial.

Seagulls are not aggressive animals, they have just unfortunately become accustomed to humans as a source of food. Stay aware and vigilant to their behaviour and you will have yourself a fine harbourside picnic - one that you don't have to share with the Herring Gull population.

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