19 Dec 2016

It's seagull attack season - hide your cats

1:28 pm on 19 December 2016

When James Sanday heard a cacophony of squawking outside his Mount Roskill home at 8 o'clock on a Sunday night, he didn't expect to find his cat being dive-bombed by a seagull.

But there was Spring - the cat - cowering on the roof, covered in a bit of bird poo, waiting for the opportune moment to make her escape.

Spring on the roof where she was dive bombed by seagulls.

Cat on a hot tin roof: Spring was attacked as she sat on the roof last night. Photo: RNZ / Veronica Schmidt

Mr Sanday said one gull swooped on Spring three or four times, while another circled overhead.

He'd never seen anything like it.


Seagulls are nesting and will aggressively protect their young. Photo: AFP / 123RF

But a cat being attacked by a seagull might not be an unusual as you think.

Graeme Taylor, a principal science advisor at the Department of Conservation, said the gull in question was probably a southern black-backed gull.

They nest right around the New Zealand coast, but they can also be found in cities, nesting on top of buildings or in vacant lots.

And it's about this time of year that their chicks are hatching.

"During December and January, there'll be young chicks at nest sites, so the birds become very aggressive to defend their chicks during that time of year," Mr Taylor said.

"That's when the most human interactions occur with birds dive-bombing them during the chick rearing period and as defence they will swoop low over top of you, do a loud squawk and they'll poop on you to drive you away."

Mr Taylor said these sorts of attacks are common when people stray into nesting areas.

While people who live on the coast know to steer clear, he said people in urban areas might not be expecting it, because they don't realise the gulls nest inside the city limits.

"The chicks, particularly when they get a bit bigger, will sometimes fly off the top of the building and land down on the streets, and the adults will actually defend them on the streets as well.

"And if they land somewhere near someone's back garden, then you could end up with a chick running around and the adult birds defending it from people or from pets."

Spring was shaken but unharmed after her battle with the seagulls.

Spring is considering auditioning for any sequel to Afred Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. Photo: RNZ / Veronica Schmidt

Mr Taylor said as chicks, the gulls look a bit like rabbits with their grey plumage.

"A pet could become quite interested in them, but they probably aren't expecting the adult to be so fiercely defending them, so that would certainly give a cat a real fright."

If you found yourself confronted with an angry seagull parent, Mr Taylor said you should back away until they stop attacking you.

"If you do see the chick running around, allow it to get in somewhere that's out of sight of people, it'll usually hunker down underneath a shrub or something like that and go quite quiet so that they're not being attacked by other predators."

And Mr Taylor you wouldn't want to end up covered in seagull poo.

"It's pretty unpleasant because you know that black-backed gulls do feed around refuse dumps and offal and things like that, so what droppings are coming out can be very smelly and very full of bacteria, so you don't really want to get coated in it."