Take the case of gulls in central Massachusetts. A multi-year study by DCR’s Division of Water Supply Protection indicates that ring-billed gulls in that region rely on handouts from people for much of their daily food. Then, according to the study, up to several thousand gulls at a time spend the night together, roosting on the waters of the Wachusett and Quabbin reservoirs. They sit, they sleep, they preen – but the real problem is, they defecate.
That has experts worried about the possibility of compromised water quality in those reservoirs. As a result, DCR is asking the public to stop feeding gulls.
It’s also true that the foods people typically provide to gulls (bread, French fries, crackers) are nutritionally inferior to the birds’ natural, and varied, food selections. Gulls may suffer long-term health effects from an artificial diet. Also, birds fed such a poor diet in crowded conditions can be at an increased risk for disease. Some of these diseases, such as Salmonella and E. coli, are potentially transmittable to humans.
But, lest you feel sorry for the poor little gulls, consider this: Ring-billed gulls are notoriously resourceful and adaptable. Eliminating hand-outs does not mean death or suffering for them. DCR’s research has shown ring-billed gulls to be highly mobile and extremely capable birds. They can travel hundreds of miles in a short period of time in search of food or new roosting areas. If food is eliminated here, they will adapt quickly and travel further south where conditions are more favorable for finding their natural foods such as insects, fish, and worms.
So, bottom line: Please don’t feed the gulls. DCR asks for everyone’s help in making a positive contribution to the quality of public water supplies and to the well-being of the birds themselves.
For more information on the DCR gull study, go to www.mass.gov/dcr/gullstudy .
One photo is of ring-billed gulls feed on human food in a shopping center parking lot in Worcester.THe second photo is of DCR's Dan Clark applying an identification tag to a ring-billed gull as part of DCR’s efforts to track gulls and their feeding and roosting habits.
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