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Seaside Snipers

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Another day, another story on aggressive gulls: 'Terrified women held hostage in her own home for four days - by yobbo SEAGULLS' said The Sun on August 9 2013.

What is it about the gull which incites such a reaction from so many people regardless of location or class? Rarely does the Great British public form a consensus, but here's one: gulls are a massive problem.

Humans don't understand seagulls, but they understand us. They're as perceptive as dogs and their airborne agility is extraordinary.

Gulls observe our routines and our movements from their lofty gables and telegraph poles; they can spot a nugget of food from the sky, and they can pick off the inattentive human. They're like well-placed snipers with beaks instead of rifles. That's what the media would have us believe.

But seagulls are far from the warriors of the skies. They're loyal, friendly birds (if you follow the rules) who keep other invaders from your patch. But there are Gull Rules, which you must be aware of to ensure a smooth passage:

1. Get off my land! (Or area of water.) Gulls, like all birds, are territorial. They patrol their patch in loops, with the male taking the lead. Other birds can pass over the territory at high altitude, but not through the patch. The head-thrown-back call (which wakes us all up) is a territorial signal to other gulls to get off. When the pair have young, humans, cats and dogs are also subject to security checks in the form of a distinctive warning call.

2. Your food is their food. When you're sitting in this patch (it can be big by the sea, or small in more built up inland areas) you become part of this territory. This means Look After Your Pasty. It also means don't put bins out overnight, just get up early instead.

3. If you spot gulls first, they respond with distance. If you notice gulls, they respond by giving you respect and space. To these alert birds, it shows a parallel gull-like awareness of your surroundings and that you're therefore an astute human. They now can't pull a fast one from the skies and whip away your food.

4. They know what you look like. Yes, it's true, gulls have superb levels of facial recognition. They will spot you in a busy street, so it's worth bearing this in mind. Gulls will remember tolerance, just as they will recognise a threat. A little consideration goes a long way.

Gulls are brilliant parents and the busy summer time beside the sea for humans coincides with the months during which gulls rear their chicks. They're simply stressed parents with hungry mouths to feed.

A machine-gun cry is a warning which many people and dogs fail to heed from said stressed parent. Ignoring it will result in being pooped on at minimum, or, if that fails, in full scale head laceration.

There is nothing random or especially aggressive about seagull behaviour. Rather than responding to their environment, gulls assert control over it from the sky (much as humans do on the ground), dealing with threats and opportunities with supreme efficiency.

A little inter-species understanding goes a long way to ensuring we all enjoy summer by the sea.

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