The perils of high street wildlife

Alan Wright

Close encounters with wildlife don't always happen out in the wilderness. There's plenty of excitement to be had on the high street, too.

During the recent Year of the Environment event in Liverpool, I popped out to one of my favourite shops to check out the 50 per cent sale. I picked up a cheese on toast on the way and, to the shame of my family, was eating it as I walked along Lord Street.

This food of the Gods is obviously tempting as many people were salivating as I passed them by, but something else was a bit keener.

As I walked and ate, something actually bounced off my head. It was quite heavy because it knocked me forward. A wing appeared on each side of my head and then I saw a juvenile herring gull fly off and land on an advertising hoarding.

I had been dive-bombed by the gull, but it was obviously not that skilled at hunting because it belly-flopped onto my bald bonce instead of snatching my food.

I kept a close watch on my assailant as it continued to eye me up from the advert, and it was still there when I came out of the shop, gaze fixed on me.

This is not uncommon. Gulls are quite happy to swoop down and grab food from holidaymakers everywhere from Cornwall to Blackpool, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that these thieves finally moved into some of the foody shopping areas of our coastal cities.

These are magnificent birds and we should be happy that they share our coasts with us

While gulls used to nest on cliffs, they started to nest on roofs around Birkdale in 1974, which is just up the coast from Liverpool. Now there are an estimated 180 pairs nesting on rooftops in the Liverpool area. They will obviously be keen to steal your chips, ice cream, pie or, indeed, cheese on toast if it’s easy pickings.

You really need to be aware because these birds are big, with wingspans up to 1.4m, so they can be really intimidating. I say be aware - my assailant just pounced out the blue. If they do make a grab your food then it is probably better giving it up without a fight.

Adult herring gulls are silvery-grey on top and white below with pink legs. They have a white head and yellow bill with a red spot near the tip.

The population dipped by 38 per cent between 2000 and 2010, but the North West population has recovered recently.

Yes, they can be terrors if you are eating al fresco this year, but these are magnificent birds and we should be happy that they share our coasts with us. Of course, this is the view of a man who managed to keep hold of his dinner. It might have been a different story...