Seagulls Terrorize British Vacationers

Seagulls in British towns -- some not even next to the water -- are more aggressive than ever. Some have even killed small pets.

A familiar presence at Britain's seaside resorts, seagulls have this summer spread fear after ambushing holidaymakers as they tuck into their fish and chips, even attacking pets.

The country's tabloid newspapers have had a field day, with headlines including: "Seagull stole my iPhone" (The Sun), "Moment killer seagull turns cannibal" (The Daily Mail) and "Psycho seagulls keep out illegals" (Daily Express).

Even the broadsheets have joined in, with The Sunday Times warning that "Gull gangs learn new tricks to steal your seafront snacks".

The squawking menaces have always had a bad reputation as scavengers.

But the gulls are now apparently growing in audacity and rather than feeding on leftovers, are deliberately targeting people's fish and chips, the battered haddock or cod combination traditionally eaten by holidaymakers, as they tuck in.

"They've been trained by terrorists, I'm sure," said Cliff Faires, owner of a seafood kiosk in the historic south coast resort of Brighton.

A sign outside his Brighton Shellfish and Oyster Bar warns: "Seagulls will snatch your food. Please be aware. We don't take any responsibility for this action."

'Never been so bad' Local witnesses described a common plan of attack used by the birds, whereby a lone assailant pounces on an unsuspecting diner, forcing them to drop their food. At this point, hordes of reinforcements arrive to feast on the spilled remains.

"They'll eat everything except lemon and tabasco," one added.

"I see gulls grabbing food from people three or four times a day, more when it's sunny," said Chris, who works at a fish-and-chip kiosk on Brighton pier.

"The worst thing I've seen is one landing on the head of an old lady who had a hot dog. She obviously dropped it and the same gull took it away really fast, the woman was terrified," he told AFP.

"It's never been as bad. This is the worst year," said Jack Messenger, from the Sea Haze Bar, another beachfront restaurant.

"It's probably best for us, because when the seagulls eat their food, they (the customers) come and get more," he joked.

It is not only seaside towns that are suffering, with inland cities such as Bath and Bristol reporting problems.

Experts blame a combination of factors for this summer's Hitchcockian events.

They include gulls becoming more accustomed to living close to humans and the birds being particularly aggressive in July when they have young in their nests.

Three pets have been pecked to death by seagulls in southwest England in recent months: a turtle, a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier.

"Blood was coming out of his head. It was like a murder scene," the Yorkshire Terrier's owner Emma Vincent told reporters.

Hysteria ‘not justified' Even Prime Minister David Cameron has swooped into the debate.

"I think a big conversation needs to happen," he said. "Reading the papers this morning about how aggressive the seagulls are now in St Ives, for instance, we do have a problem."

It is forbidden to kill seagulls, so the only way to fight them is to destroy their eggs or release birds of prey to hunt them.

Tony Whitehead, spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said he "didn't think the hysteria is justified."

"There is an issue... but to demonize the whole species off the back of a few incidents, I don't agree with that," he told AFP.

Pete Rock, an expert on urban gulls, called for further study using advanced technologies instead of destroying their eggs.

"They know everything there is to know about their home range, where all the food is, and where to go and mate," he told AFP. "What we don't know, is what they know, and the only way to find that out is to use satellite telemetry."

Laura Mayes, a councelor in southwest England, highlighted another problem encountered with nesting gulls.

"What has really affected us is noise. They fly over the houses of the neighbors crying 24 hours," she said.

"No way we would allow neighbors to have parties all night, but that's exactly what it means to have gulls living near people."

Ah, summer -- a time of warmth, sunshine, and artificially circulated air billed by the kilowatt hour. How about a natural breeze made by wings instead? Ones that span more than 10 feet tip-to-tip? Join us as we survey a collection of birds with just plain amazing wingspans. We'll be sure to let you know when you're looking at the big kahuna -- that is, the largest wingspan among living birds. For starters, here we see the bearded vulture, tending to youngins. The hulking creature can weigh 15 pounds, with wings that can span 9.3 feet. It enjoys living at high elevations -- cliffs, for example, that might overlook greener vistas where enough prey and predators exist that they can scavenge on the leftovers. There are more than a dozen subspecies, and they have an extensive range -- from southern Europe, to Asia, to Africa.

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The California condor has the widest wingspan of any bird in North America, topping out at about 9.8 feet. It weighs an astonishing 26 pounds and, being a vulture, the scavenger dines on a diet heavy on dead animals. By 1987 it had become extinct, the remaining birds in the wild captured and protected. However, they have since been reintroduced into the wild in parts of Arizona, California and Utah.

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You're looking at North America's largest predatory bird, the golden eagle. With a wingspan that can reach about 7.5 feet, the dark-brown raptor can also be found in North Africa, Europe, and Asia. They love open spaces, anywhere from sea level to more than 2 miles in elevation. They eat the usual poor critters on the ground that can't evade them, such as rabbits, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and marmots. In the wild, they can live to some 30 years old. If you click this link below, you'll get an even better idea of a golden eagle's size, as it takes down an atypical form of prey: an unlucky young deer.

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The great white pelican puts tons of span in its wings, with a mind-boggling wingspan of about 9.5 feet. With a penchant for warm and shallow waters, these birds can be found in Europe, Asia and Africa. They eat mostly fish and will fly more than 50 miles in a day while seeking food.

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The Andean condor lives in the Andes Mountains and along the Pacific coastline of South America. Its wingspan can reach 10 feet across, and these vultures put their powerful flappers to good use searching for dead deer, cattle or other carrion.

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Speaking of vultures, here's another one -- the griffon. Its wings can span a bit more than 9 feet across and it can weigh up to 25 pounds. True to its vulturesome nature, it also prefers to lead a scavenging lifestyle, making its humble living in southern Europe, Asia and Africa.

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Meet the marabou stork. Its top recorded wingspan is 10.5 feet. It lives in sub-Saharan Africa and has been uncharitably compared to an undertaker in appearance, with its heavy black wings, spindly legs and white feathers on its head. It's even known to have a bit of a bad temper.

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The whooper swan boasts a wingspan of about 9 feet and can weigh up to 31 pounds. These northern hemisphere birds spend a great deal of time in the water and have a wide breeding range across sub-Arctic Europe and Asia. Strong fliers, they'll migrate hundreds to thousands of miles. And, on a romantic note, their pairs mate for life.

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Finally! The bird you've all been waiting for. Here's the longest wingspan of any living bird, and it belongs to the wandering albatross. You can see why one is inherently uncomfortable to have around one's neck. How wide a wingspan, you ask? About 11.6 feet at its top length! Even greater spans have been alleged, but not verified. Its mean wingspan among the species, meanwhile, hits 10.2 feet. The seabirds dine at night on fish, crustaceans, cephalopods, and whatever other animal remains they can find just floating in the water for the taking. They'll follow ships looking for just such fare. Adults typically weight about 25 pounds and they can live up to about 50 years.

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