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Like it or not, Sheffield’s seagulls are here to stay

Have you noticed a lot of seagulls recently? Their cries can be heard throughout the city centre, and out into the suburbs. And more than one person has said, “It must be bad weather on the coast because they’ve come inland.”

The closest beach as the crow flies is Cleethorpes Central Beach, in North East Lincolnshire, and is 62 miles from Sheffield. Seagulls have always come inland during winter for the simple reason that it’s warmer in urban areas, but now it seems we may have to get used to them all year long.

As far as we know, it was about 40 years ago, that some gulls decided they preferred Sheffield, and stayed on during the rest of the year. They first started to roost and gather in local parks like Meersbrook Park and Graves Park, back in the ice-cold grip of the winters of 1979 and 1980.

Now they can be seen across the city, with large groups reported in the city centre and around Crystal Peaks.

A disruption in the ready supply of fish, particularly waste, due to changes in the fishing industry, could be a contributing factor in the gulls heading inland.

Adult birds (3 years and over) having once bred in a town or city will generally return to the same colony year after year, often to the same nesting site.

Mating activity will start in February when birds begin to identify nesting sites, courting is in full swing by March, and by April the nest will have been made. Typically, eggs will be laid in late April or May, and the eggs start to hatch in June. Matters get much worse in July and August when the young birds fledge (begin to fly).

It appears to be only the Herring and Lesser black-backed gulls that breed in Sheffield. They prefer flat roofs with a little substrate (gravel etc). They build a very simple nest of moss and other vegetation and if needs be this can be done in a matter of hours. Typically three eggs are laid in each nest. On a modern building, nests will tend to be built behind a parapet wall or where there is protection from the elements.

Gulls like circling round tall buildings: they use the updraughts to gain height, while they socialise or study the neighbourhood for food.

It is thought that the Moorfoot building has provided perfect nesting and roosting points for them, and there is lots of food which is easily available. Even if not fed by people there are always rubbish dumps and litter they can eat, for example, fish and chips dropped on pavements.

Much of the birds’ success in cities is due to their long lives, which allows the birds to build up an extensive memory of where and how to find food. Unlike garden songbirds (which generally live 3-5 years), gulls can live decades and accumulate valuable experience. 

Young gulls have been brought up with no knowledge of anywhere except urban life. None of them know how to catch a fish and have now reached the third or fourth generation.

And so, it appears that our seagulls are here to stay.

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