The term gull refers to
members of a group of 23 North American bird species
that belong to the family Laridae, subfamily Larinae.
Gulls are robust birds with webbed feet, long wings and
a slightly hooked beak (Fig. 1). They all possess
exceptional flying ability. They are often seen
swimming, and occasionally dive underwater. Adult gulls
are white, with varying patterns of gray and black over
the back, wings, and head. The young of larger species
are often gray and take several years to develop adult
plumage. The sexes are similar in appearance.
The herring (Larus
argentatus) and ring-billed (L. delawarensis) gulls are
the most common and widespread of the species. They are
distributed throughout North America, from coastal to
inland areas, from unsettled areas to the downtown cores
of large cities, from farmers’ fields to fast-food
outlets and drive-in theaters. Other common species
include the laughing gull
(L. atricilla), Franklin’s
gull (L. pipixcan), great black-backed gull (L. marinus),
and California gull (L. californicus). Some species are
limited to coastal habitats, while others may occur
inland seasonally, rarely, or in specialized habitats.
General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Most gulls nest in
colonies on sand-and gravel-covered shorelines and
islands. They build nests on the ground and produce 3 to
5 eggs per nest. In the Great Lakes region, the number
of ring-billed gulls has been increasing at about 10%
per year since the early 1970s. Bent (1947) said of it,
“the ring-billed gull yields readily to persecution, is
easily driven from its breeding grounds and seems to
prefer to breed in remote, unsettled regions far from
the haunts of man.” However, a colony on Leslie Spit on
the waterfront of Toronto, Ontario, increased from 20
pairs in 1973 to 75,000 to 80,000 pairs in 1982 (Blokpoel
1983). It appears that ring-billed gulls have changed
some of their habits in recent years and have adapted to
humans in their environment. A colony of laughing gulls
in the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway National Recreation
Area, New York, increased from 15 pairs in 1979 to 7,600
pairs in 1990 (Richard A. Dolbeer, pers. commun.).
Gulls feed on land or
water on aquatic animals, terrestrial invertebrates and
small vertebrates, plant remains, carrion, and refuse.
They frequently take the eggs and young of other nesting
seabirds. Small species, including ring-billed,
laughing, and Franklin’s gulls, may also feed in the air
on flying insects.
populations in North America during the past century
have led to a variety of problems for different segments
of society. Gulls cause damage to agricultural crops and
threaten human safety at and near airports. They are
involved in more collisions with aircraft than any other
bird group because they are numerous and widely
distributed. The presence of gull roosts near reservoirs
increases their potential for transmitting diseases to
human populations. Gulls occasionally cause a nuisance
when they nest on rooftops and seek food from people
eating out-of-doors. Gulls are predators of several
seabirds during the breeding season. Expanding and
colonizing gull populations may have detrimental affects
on the breeding performance of these other, often
Gulls are classified as
migratory species and thus are protected by federal and,
in most cases, state laws. In the United States, gulls
may be taken only with a permit issued by the US Fish
and Wildlife Service. Permits are issued only after
frightening techniques, physical barriers, or both have
been used correctly and qualified personnel certify that
these methods have been ineffective. Some states may
require an additional permit to kill gulls. No federal
permit is needed, however, to frighten or mechanically
Prevention and Control Methods
gulls from attractive areas (garbage dumps, sewage
discharge areas, drive-in theaters, catering
establishments) near airports can significantly reduce
gull use of airport surfaces and flightways used by
Exclude gulls from limited
resting areas such as window ledges and roof tops by
covering the surfaces with porcupine wires (see
Pigeons). Exclude them from large areas such as water
reservoirs, cropfields, and landfills, by installing
wire or plastic netting or suspending parallel steel
[0.36 mm]) or nylon
monofilament line (50-pound [23-kg] test) over the area.
Wire or monofilament spacing may be 40 feet (12 m) for
large gulls to 15 feet
(4.5 m) for smaller ones.
Birds have long been
excluded from ponds in which fish are raised by using
heavy, easily visible wires. Amling (1980) used strong,
fine steel wires (28 gauge [0.036 cm]) on long, parallel
spans up to 80 feet (25 m) apart to exclude gulls from a
water reservoir. Wires have been used successfully to
exclude most herring and ring-billed gulls from garbage
dumps. McLaren et al. (1984) found that a wire spacing
of 30 feet (9 m) worked if the food attraction was not
too great. Fif-teen-foot (6-m) spacing worked even with
very abundant food. Blokpoel and Tessier (1984) reported
the successful exclusion of ring-billed gulls from food
service areas in Toronto using widely spaced nylon
monofilament lines. They used more closely spaced lines
to exclude the same species from part of a nesting area
used by more than 70,000 pairs of gulls.
The reason that gulls
rarely fly under or between fine parallel wires is not
clearly understood. Other birds, including pigeons,
regularly fly under and between the wires. The fine
wires and lines are almost invisible at 35 feet (10 m)
or more and may not be easily seen by gulls as they
spiral down to land. The avoidance reaction when the
wires are seen is spectacular and may disturb other
gulls enough to make them avoid the wired area.
modification to discourage gull use of areas includes
reducing or eliminating food, nesting and resting sites,
and water. Reducing food availability is not easy,
because of gulls’ adaptability in using a wide variety
of foods. Human food wastes, fruit and vegetable crops,
insects, earthworms, and other invertebrates and
vertebrates are all potential foods that may require
careful control to reduce their availability.
Municipalities may find it useful to modify or eliminate
artificial feeding sites that gulls have habituated to
in recent years, such as garbage dumps and landfills,
fish docks, trawlers, food processing plants, sewer
outfalls, and livestock feedlots.
Manipulate grass height by
limiting mowing to discourage gulls from using airports,
park areas, and playing fields as resting or loafing
areas. A height of 8 inches (20 cm) may discourage
laughing gulls, but herring gulls can see over it and
will not necessarily be discouraged unless the grass is
higher. Where ponds are attractive to gulls, filling or
draining may aid in reducing the suitability of such
devices used successfully against gulls include shotgun
shells, shellcrackers, gas-powered exploders, and
broadcasts of distress and alarm calls (see Bird
Dispersal Techniques). In addition, gulls can be
harassed by trained birds of prey or radio-controlled
small aircraft, which can be constructed to resemble
falcons. To be successful, all scaring devices should be
used by experienced, dedicated personnel. Continuity and
care in use are the most important factors. Most
distress and alarm calls are species-specific and may
even be specific to local dialects. They must be used
sparingly to avoid familiarity and are best used from a
stationary source. The birds will first approach the
source of sound and after 5 to 10 minutes will move away
from the area. Shellcrackers can be used to direct the
departure. They are most effective when the birds are
airborne and have begun to move away from the sound
source. Frightening devices are not a cure for repeated
presence of gulls. Dead gulls or gull decoys placed in
dead gull postures can be used, especially in
conjunction with other frightening devices to frighten
gulls from an area.
(4-aminopyri-dine) is federally registered for the
control of herring gulls in the United States. The
current label allows for its use to frighten gulls that
are feeding, nesting, loafing, or roosting near or in
the vicinity of sanitary landfills, airports, and
structures. Apply the concentrate to bread, as specified
on the product label. Mortality is minimized by limiting
the amount of bait offered. Avitrol® used for this
purpose is a Restricted Use Pesticide. State and federal
permits are required in order to use Avitrol® on gulls.
be used as a tactile repellent to keep gulls from
landing on beams, posts, and other structural materials.
Research is being conducted on methyl anthranilate, a
product that has shown some efficacy in repelling gulls
from shallow pools of water used for loafing and
DRC-1339 is a Restricted Use Pesticide that is
registered in the United States for the control of
nesting herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, and
ring-billed gulls. Its use is limited to coastal areas
where high gull populations are conflicting with
less-abundant colonial waterbirds. The toxicant is mixed
with bread and is placed directly on gull nests.
DRC-1339 is slow acting and apparently painless. Death
is caused by uremic poisoning.
Gulls can be
live trapped by several techniques, including rocket or
cannon netting over baited sites, setting box traps over
nests and eggs, and spotlighting at night and capturing
with hand nets. Gulls are very mobile and if relocated,
would likely home back to their original place of
capture. Therefore, live-trapped gulls should be
euthanized with carbon dioxide gas.
with shotguns or rifles can be a highly selective and
useful form of control under certain conditions. Federal
and possibly state permits are required. Shooting has
been used to eliminate gulls that habitually fly over
airport runways (for example, Kennedy Airport, New York)
and offending individuals that are preying on the eggs
and nestlings of protected species (for example,
black-headed gulls, Norfolk, United Kingdom). Caution
must be used so that shooting does not disturb the
protected species. Shooting is not a very successful
method for reducing large colonies because of the
relatively small number of gulls that normally can be
nests, eggs, and young. To be effective, removal of all
nests, eggs, and young from a colony should be done
every 2 weeks. Activities are time-consuming and labor
intensive and renesting is usually attempted, often in
more remote areas. Permits are necessary.
Sterilization of eggs.
Several methods can be used to ensure that eggs do not
hatch, including pricking, formalin injection, shaking,
and spraying with or dipping in an oil emulsion
solution. To inhibit replacement, eggs must be returned
to the nest and not externally damaged.
John F. Bardwell and Alfred J. Godin reviewed
a draft of this chapter and provided helpful comments.
Figure 1 is by Jill Sack
For Additional Information
Amling, W. 1980. Exclusion
of gulls from reservoirs in Orange County, California.
Proc. Vertebr. Pest Conf. 9:29-30.
Bent, A. C. 1947. Life
histories of North American gulls and terns. Dodd, Mead,
and Co., New York. 333 pp.
Blokpoel, H. 1976. Bird
hazards to aircraft. Clark, Irwin, and Co. Ltd., in
assoc. with Environment Canada. 235 pp.
Blokpoel, H. 1983. Gull
problems in Ontario. Info. Leaflet, Canadian Wildl. Serv.,
Ottawa, Ontario. 9 pp.
Blokpoel, H. 1985. Report
on damage to crops by gulls in southwestern Ontario.
Canadian Wildl. Serv. Ottawa, Ontario. 3 pp.
Blokpoel, H., and G.D.
Tessier. 1984. Overhead wires to exclude ring-billed
gulls from public places in Toronto, Ontario. Wildl.
Soc. Bull. 12:55-58.
Blokpoel, H., and G.D.
Tessier. 1986. The ring-billed gull in Ontario: A review
of a new problem species. Occas. Paper No. 57, Canadian
Wildl. Serv., Ottawa, Ontario. 34 pp.
Dolbeer, R. A., M.
Chevalier, P. P. Woronecki, and E. B. Butler. 1989.
Laughing gulls at
J. F. K. Airport: safety
hazard or wildlife resource? Proc. Eastern Wildl. Damage
Control Conf. 4:37-44.
McAtee, W. L., and S. E.
Piper. 1936. Excluding birds from reservoirs and fish
ponds. Leaflet 120, US Dep. Agric. 6 pp.
McLaren, M. A., R. E.
Harris, and W. J. Richardson. 1984. Effectiveness of an
overhead wire barrier in deterring gulls from feeding at
a sanitary landfill. Pages 241-251 in Proc. wildl.
hazards to aircraft conf. training workshop. US Dep.
Trans., Fed. Aviation Admin., Washington, DC.
Solman, V. E. F. 1973.
Birds and aircraft. Biol. Conserv. 5:79-86.
Solman, V. E. F. 1978.
Gulls and aircraft. Environ. Conserv. 5:277-280.
Solman, V. E. F. 1981.
Birds and aviation. Environ. Conserv. 8:45-51.
Solman, V. E. F. 1984.
Reducing gull use of some attractions near airports.
Pages 209-212 in Proc. wildl. hazards to aircraft conf.
and training workshop. US Dep. Trans., Fed. Aviation
Admin., Washington, DC.
Solman, V. E. F., H.
Blokpoel, and J. Laidlaw. 1984. Keeping unwanted gulls
away, a progress report. Proc. Eastern Wildl. Damage
Control Conf. 1:311.
Thomas, G. J. 1972. A
review of gull damage and management methods at nature
reserves. Biol. Conserv. 4:117-127.
Scott E. Hygnstrom Robert
M. Timm Gary E. Larson
PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF
WILDLIFE DAMAGE — 1994
Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Nebraska -Lincoln
United States Department
of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service Animal Damage Control
Great Plains Agricultural
Council Wildlife Committee