Red-billed gulls misunderstood

Dunedin resident Sophie Barker yesterday appealed to an international audience through BBC World News for people to better appreciate New Zealand's threatened and unpopular red-billed seagulls.

Ms Barker, who is the Otago Peninsula Trust marketing manager, said the gulls were viewed negatively by too many people.

People often seemed to dislike the birds, including their squawking and ''pooing'', and trying to snatch hot chips at the beach, she said in the television interview, which screened live yesterday.

Dunedin resident Sophie Barker with threatened red-billed gulls, in Dunedin's Octagon. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Dunedin resident Sophie Barker with threatened red-billed gulls, in Dunedin's Octagon. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

But Ms Barker said later a colony of about 2000 red-billed gull nests, established near the car park at the Royal Albatross Centre at Taiaroa Head, had further added to Dunedin's standing as ''the wildlife capital of New Zealand''.

Red-billed gulls, the most common of three species found in New Zealand, needed ''better PR'', and were ''misunderstood''.

It had been a ''huge coup'' for the city to get on the BBC, she added.

The BBC interviewer said that on coastlines throughout the world, and particularly where there were hot chips, there were ''throngs of seagulls'', but then asked why bird numbers were dropping here.

Gull populations had been ''devastated'' by falling fish stocks, loss of habitats and introduced pests, Ms Barker said.

But the Taiaroa Head red-billed gull colony was breeding well, ''due to our predator control'', to protect the albatrosses.

Red-billed gulls were ''important to our biodiversity'', to the food chain and to ''our appreciation of the world we live in''.

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