How a fake tree could solve a B.C. port's pesky gull problem
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, March 28, 2018 2:50PM EDT
John Briant has never grown accustomed to the scent that hundreds of gulls bring to Victoria's largest port.
The general manager of Western Stevedoring, which manages Ogden Point, says it's just one problem that makes the species impossible to ignore -- alongside blizzards of feathers and the constant threat of bird droppings.
"It smells like rotten, dead fish, it's very gross. Especially, you know, when it doesn't rain for quite a long period of time. Then it will get hot and bake and the first little bit of rain we get, wets it," Briant said.
"The smell is absolutely disgusting. It blows into the community and we get accused of it coming from the cruise ships. It's not, it's coming from the warehouse roof."
Western Stevedoring spends between $20,000 and $30,000 each year cleaning up guano at Ogden Point, which doubles as a tourist attraction and deep-sea port, Briant said. That doesn't include the extra cost of warehouse roof repairs needed because the acidic poop corrodes its surface.
After trying to deter the gulls over several years using everything from lasers to fake owls with bobbing heads, Briant said they are going to see if a novel solution will work.
The company has installed a custom-built fake tree on top of the warehouse, with a steel trunk and dead tree branches.
The goal? Attract the gulls' natural foes, bald eagles, to nest there.
"We hope it works," Briant said.
Jacques Sirois, chairman of the Friends of Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, said dead trees are a natural roosting place for eagles. He came up with the idea to mount a tree on the rooftop.
"I go to Ogden Point every day. When the bald eagles fly over, I would see 100 to 200 gulls flushing from the roof," he said.
"The idea is that if we make the area more eagle friendly, it might become more gull unfriendly."
It won't be the first of its kind. Sirois pointed to Habitat Island in Vancouver's False Creek as another location where dead tree snags have been strategically bolted in place to attract eagles.
He said tall, dead trees were once a common sight along the coast, but municipalities tend to cut them down because they can pose safety hazards.
That didn't help the decline of bald eagle populations over the decades, he said, but now that they are rebounding, he'd like to see more dead trees -- or stable structures -- put in place so they have more places to roost.
The glaucous-winged gull, on the other hand, may need some help too. While the most common gull of the Salish Sea may appear to be a pest, that's only because they're increasingly drawn into urban areas in search of food, he said.
A 2015 University of British Columbia study found the population of seagulls in the Georgia Strait had dropped by half since the 1980s, due to declining food sources like herring.
Sirois said scaring them off from Ogden Point won't leave them without a home, however, since there are wild gull habitats on nearby Trial Island and Chain Islets.
"The gulls have somewhere to go," he said.