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Decoys lure birds to new breeding site

Sky scavenger nationally vulnerable

Published: 12 February 2020

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New Zealand’s ‘fish and chip’ bird in decline

Their table manners leave a lot to be desired, their squawking is unbearable, and they behave badly in public. For this performance they justifiably get a bad rap!

No, it’s not the kids, it’s the red-billed gull. Who would have thought these “scavengers of the skies” are nationally vulnerable? Their numbers have fallen so rapidly they’re now listed as “at risk - declining”.

The red-billed gull usually nests in colonies on rocky headlands, but in 1994 the bright lights of the city, a plentiful food source from city streets and beaches, lured a colony to set up on the slipway walls of the old Percy Vos boatyard at Wynyard Point; it’s now one of the largest urban colonies in the country.

“As with all cities, progress ensues and with the return of the Americas Cup to Auckland the colony needed to be relocated to make way for a new ferry terminal,” says Wynyard Edge Alliances environmental consultant Paul Kennedy.

The gulls completed their breeding season and in February 2019, left the Percy Vos boatyard site and dispersed for the winter, returning in August. In early 2019, Panuku Development Auckland provided a new site for the gulls further along the seawall and about 150m away from the old one.

During winter 2019, driftwood from the old boatyard was scattered around the new site to simulate their old habitat, gravel mounds were added for nesting and coastal plants were already present, providing a source of nest material. Eight very realistic 3D printed decoy gulls were installed and cemented in place to coax the birds back for the new breeding season.

The first breeding birds returned in August and quickly gathered around the decoys. It wasn’t long before the birds were nesting on the site with a new colony establishing itself. Over 350 pairs bred and more than 500 chicks fledged this summer.

“We were delighted how quickly the gulls adopted their new surroundings,” says Tim Lovegrove, Auckland Council’s Senior Regional Advisor for fauna.

“The decoys must have been so life-like the gulls thought they were one of them!”

With the current population thought to be fewer than 30,000 pairs and declining, their loss as a familiar and beautiful bird of the New Zealand coast would be devastating.

That could mean no more screaming gulls diving to steal the kids’ sandwiches on the beach! However, if they were gone, we would certainly miss them.

Listen to an audio report below from RNZ about the birds, and read more on the Guardian website.

Read more: Environment

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