July 20, 2018 07:06:52
Mind your hot chips — gull populations are on the rise in Tasmania and ornithologists don’t know why.
Birdlife Tasmania has conducted its annual winter gull count and found that numbers of all three gull species in the state’s south-east had increased significantly.
There was a record amount of Pacific gulls counted, which was an increase of 170 per cent on last year’s numbers to now exceed 1,000.
Dr Eric Woehler said silver gulls, more commonly known as seagulls, recorded the second highest numbers in 35 years with about 16,000 counted.
“That’s unusual, because over the past three or four years we’ve been seeing a slow decrease in their numbers,” he said.
“Every year the gulls surprise us. These are long-lived birds; we know from banding studies that all three species, even the little silver gull that people see around the Hobart waterfront, can live for 30 years.
“Some years are good years for birds and some years are bad years for the gulls.”
Dr Woehler said it was not known what caused the populations to increase.
“The different species respond differently to the environment.”
Gulls on the move
It seems the gulls have cleaned up their act, with Dr Woehler noting they had shifted away from rubbish tips.
“People may remember going to the Hobart tip, Glenorchy tip or Lauderdale tip back in the 1980s and 1990s and seeing thousands, if not close to 10,000 gulls, at some of these tips.
“The birds have realised there isn’t food at these tips and have shifted, to some extent, to fish farms in the channel.”
He said the idea that seagulls lived off hot chips was inaccurate.
“They need to find food every day of their lives for 30 years and they can’t rely on people throwing them chips on a beach.”
Fish and chip shop worker Eamon Hanna has worked on the Hobart waterfront for three years and said he hadn’t noticed an increase in seagulls.
“They’ve always been annoying, but they haven’t really increased I don’t think,” he said.
“I saw one sitting on the spikes one day, so that doesn’t really help. They are pretty clever, they’ll find a way to get your chips.”
However Jack Cooper, who’s worked on the waterfront for five years, said he’d noticed the seagulls had moved elsewhere.
“What little roosting space there is around here has become highly competitive.”
Longest bird count in Australia
The winter gull count in Tasmania is the longest running bird count anywhere in Australia.
It involves about 70 people from all walks of life who set out early in the morning with a notebook and binoculars.
Counts are conducted from Southport to New Norfolk and the Tasman Peninsula.
Dr Woehler said it wasn’t possible to count all the gulls on the islands around the south-east during summer.
“We wait until winter when all the birds are hanging around tips, fish farms and sports grounds,” he said.
“We do all of this in a four-hour window to minimise the chances of the birds flying from one area to another.
“Sometimes you need a bit of patience or need to take your socks and shoes off because some of the areas we’ve counted this year had more than 3,000 gulls in a single location.”
Gulls have been counted since 1980, after the late Dr Bill Wakefield was concerned about the impact of the introduced kelp gull on silver and Pacific gull populations.
July 20, 2018 07:00:18