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Feeding of Seagulls On Oregon Coast a No No, But Growing Problem

Published 04/28/2011

(Oregon Coast) – It's a common scene and sometimes a major attraction to coming to the beach. It's awesome to interact with nature in this way. But it's perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the coast experience.

Feeding seagulls is simply a bad idea, and it's now becoming greatly discouraged along the Oregon coast by state and local officials from a variety of levels. People food is bad for them, it causes them to be injured and killed more often by removing their fear of vehicles and traffic, and it even causes health problems for the human water supply.

Sharnelle Fee, Executive Director of Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria, has been on a soapbox about this in recent years, watching seagull deaths greatly increase, along with other problems. She and other civic authorities are starting to get the word out on a larger basis, especially in towns where water quality is starting to get effected by large flocks of birds plopping poop everywhere.

Feeding seagulls is not illegal, but it is highly discouraged - and it may become illegal down the road.

To begin with, this kind of food is bad for them. Human food is bad for them in general, but especially the stuff that gets thrown at them, like bread, French fries, potato chips, pizza and lunch meat. These foods have absolutely no nutritional value for gulls and can actually harm them.

Fee said she’s done necropsies on dead birds that appeared to be starving and found bellies full of human food.

“It was weird,” Fee said. “I’ve found hot dogs, chicken bones, etc.”

Gull chicks fed on such fast food diets may not develop properly.

Also, these trans-fats that have become such a health issue for people food has been found in ever-increasing numbers in the eggs of some gulls, and the impact there is still unknown. Scientists are now forced to do studies of the trans-fat issues in birds as well.

If people were feeding them fish – which is their natural diet – this wouldn’t be a problem. But unfortunately people will first give out their scraps, which means fast food – a kind of bird version of the movie “Super Size Me.”

Then there are the numerous traffic issues.

“They’re no longer afraid of cars,” Fee said. “They view them as big vending machines.”

Being highly intelligent birds that learn quickly, they’ve come to no longer fear traffic or vehicles. This is why when you’re driving through beach access parking lots they don’t move.

Fee pointed out this problem has far-reaching effects, like one serious problem area: the McDonald’s restaurant in Seaside.

“They’re swarming in huge numbers at the McDonald’s in Seaside,” Fee said. “All it takes is one French fry and you’ve got 50 birds.”

Not only do the birds cause a major nuisance in terms of droppings and just sheer numbers, but they get hit by other cars in the parking lot, or worse yet they wander non-chalantly into traffic on 101 and get hit there.

All hit or injured seagulls need to be euthanized. They can’t be rescued or rehabilitated. Fee referred to it as “having to murder them.”

“Would you feed your kid in the middle of a parking lot?” Fee said.

Then there are the public health issues that are the result of big flocks of seagulls. Their fecal matter gets into storm drains and hits the beach in great numbers. Cannon Beach has especially had problems with this. Consequently, lodgings and businesses there have been much more proactive there about getting the word out to guests to “not feed the seagulls.”

In fact, just this week a public health advisory was issued for the town after a higher-than-normal reading of bacteria was found in water runoff to the beach. Warnings like this usually just last a few a days, and it means you should stay out of the water in that area until the advisory is lifted.

This lack of fear of vehicles has created another level of crime and vandalism, as well. Fee said it gives some people more excuses to do bad things. Recent years have seen high profile news stories of motorists driving on beaches and killing as many as 50 seagulls at a time – on purpose.

It’s a crime punishable by law.

Fee said the media only reports on the large kills. But at the end of each year she gets massive reports from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife of one or two willful bird killings by shooting or vehicle. One report from the Long Beach area of the Washington coast was of a group that actually coaxed seagulls with food and then proceeded to shoot them.

This is a constant problem on beaches where driving is allowed, like Pacific City, Warrenton, Gearhart and the southern Washington coast. They are well known to congregate in Yachats and the Seaside Promenade in huge numbers as well, and seem to become comfortable anywhere quickly – if there’s food.

Some cities, like Seaside, Rockaway Beach and Cannon Beach have begun to adopt ordinances or at least public education policies.

It’s now not uncommon to see someone walking a street in any given coastal town with food to go in their hands, and then to see them cower and shriek as a large flock of gulls descend on them with Hitchcockian intensity. Humans only have themselves to blame for this.

The Wildlife Center of the North Coast can be found here or call (503) 338-3954 to report a sick or injured bird. Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours


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