Shrill cries, gutted garbage cans, droppings… is there really a “seagull problem” in Paris?

Gulls are one of those animals that push the boundaries between city and nature. For several decades, these large yellow-billed birds have been nesting in colonies on certain Parisian roofs – notably that of the National Museum of Natural History. They know the market times by heart and, it’s true, sometimes go after trash bags looking for the bottom of a packet of crisps.

How to explain the presence of these seabirds in the city? “With the drop in fish stocks and the reduction in discards by fishermen, gulls have been turning to human waste since the 1970s”, rewinds Frédéric Malher, member of the LPO who coordinated the atlas of breeding birds of the Grand Paris. These omnivores then find an abundant food supply in the urban environment, made up of household waste, agro-food waste and open dumps.

The phenomenon initially affected coastal towns such as Tréport (Normandy) and Morlaix (Brittany). But the expansion did not stop at the seaside: “Paris and Rennes saw their first colonies appear in the mid-1990s, then Lyon in the 2000s”, explain the anthropologists Matiline Paulet and Frédéric Bioret in an article published in 2021 in the environmental science journal VertigO.

Acclimatization is such that today, “the reproductive success rate of urban gulls is now higher than that of gulls that nest in natural sites”, emphasizes Frédéric Malher.

A “friendly cry”

The presence of these large birds in the capital does not fail to arouse the surprise of Parisians. And sometimes their annoyance. Because in addition to droppings, gulls willingly push shrill cries during the breeding season, around nesting sites (chimneys and gravelled terraces). “I spent a few nights with gulls on the roof, and all bird lovers that I am, I must admit that it is extremely noisy”, testifies Frédéric Malher.

A vision that Jean-Philippe Siblet attempts to put into perspective. In 2019, this ornithologist, then director of expertise at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, statement to AFP “Their cry is infinitely more sympathetic than all the nuisances one hears in the street, be it the police and ambulance sirens, the cries of the crowd or the noises of the population – including the neighbor who pierces a hole in his wall to put a mirror. Let’s relativize and try to coexist with wildlife, rather than rejecting it. »

About 400 individuals in Paris

Bird-human cohabitation is precisely the core business of Aerho, a consulting firm that has been carrying out diagnoses for 20 years for local authorities and companies, such as the SNCF and the RATP. Its objective is to guide them in a “sustainable, reasoned and ethical” management of birds in the city, mainly pigeons. It was Aerho who, at a request from the City of Paris in 2007, revealed the number of Parisian pigeons to be 27,000, following observations spread over eight months. But Didier Lapostre, its president, says he has not received any request about gulls in Île-de-France.

It must be said that the presence of gulls in Paris remains very small: “About 100 pairs nest in the capital, on the roofs and between the chimney pots, notes Frédéric Mulher. Counting the young, that’s maybe 400 individuals. In other words, not much, next to the big coastal cities like Lorient and Brest, which have 2000 or 3000 pairs! »

Alleviate resentment of nuisance

From 1986 to 1991, as an attempt at workforce management, Le Havre practiced alpha-chloralose poisoning of adult gulls. But this technique, in addition to being cruel, has proven to be ineffective: it disperses the colony and ultimately makes the presence of birds more difficult to manage. So in 1994, the city turned to the egg sterilization method, already used in Brest. It is a question of coating the latter with a vegetable oil which clogs the pores of the egg, which suffocates the embryo.

Other approaches seek to make cities less attractive to gulls: the reduction of food resources, and physical obstacles to the establishment of nests. But to permanently reduce the number of complaints, perhaps it is also necessary to act… on the complaints. Matiline Paulet and Frédéric Bioret thus recommend the implementation of communication campaigns to reduce the nuisances felt.

Like the citizen group Les goélands and the Observatory of seagulls, both set up in Lorient in recent years, such campaigns would make it possible “to make the biology and ecology of the bird known to city dwellers, to specify the reasons for its presence in town, explain in detail the action of the town hall, answer the questions of the inhabitants and reassure them as to the concern they may feel in the face of the presence of a nest on their roof. Finally, the solutions are not lacking.

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