First Published: 2017-04-13

Algiers invaded by yellow-legged gull bird
Rat of the sky takes advantage of human waste to supplement its marine diet, becomes invasive pest in Algerian capital.
Middle East Online

Population as doubled in last 25 years

ALGIERS - "It's not a bird, it's a rat -- and it's squatting on my terrace," Ali says of his new neighbour, a yellow-legged gull -- a pest ubiquitous in the Algerian capital.

The 60-year-old is not alone in despising this versatile scavenger, whose Mediterranean population has boomed in recent decades.

The "rat of the sky" has taken advantage of human waste to supplement its normal marine diet, breeding fast and becoming the region's most common seabird.

Aicha, an Algiers resident with henna-dyed hair, has shared her home with a pair of gulls and their offspring for three years.

"They eat all the leftovers," she says. "No need for a bin."

Nawel Derradji, a doctoral student in animal ecology at the University of Bab Ezzouar in Algiers, says the country's open-air rubbish tips have given the gulls "abundant, readily accessible and regularly renewed sources of food".

That has driven "an extension of its breeding range and its colonisation of new habitats, in particular urban areas," she adds.

The yellow-legged gull, only recently classified as a species distinct from the herring gull, is invasive, aggressive, noisy and very messy.

Today the birds can be found as far as 100 kilometres (60 miles) inland, says Professor Riadh Moulai of the University of Bejaia.

- 'Cliffside' high-rise nests -

"In the last 25 years, the population growth of yellow-legged gulls has doubled, and in some places it has reached 400 percent," he says, saying that cutting the country's reliance on open-air rubbish tips could drastically limit the species' spread.

The gull has adapted well to the urban environment, swapping its normal cliffside dwellings for terraces on the capital's high-rise apartment blocks where it builds nests out of rags, bones and bits of plastic.

A recent study in the capital found some 150 nests, compared with just three in 2011. But as they are difficult to locate, the real figures may be much higher, Derradji says.

That poses tough problems, she says, adding that the gull preys on smaller urban birds.

But despite its poor reputation, the Yellow-legged Gull has its fans.

Rachid, a fisherman from Tamentfoust, 25 kilometres (15 miles) east of Algiers, has welcomed his new neighbours.

"Four couples have lived on my terrace for several years. I sometimes take them sardines in the evening," says the seaman in his sixties, his skin baked brown by the sun.

"I put down the fish and they help themselves."

Ali is not so enthusiastic. He says the "plague" of birds has almost stopped him using his terrace.

"It's not even possible to hang out the washing or sit down for a moment -- there's too much muck. They poop everywhere," he says.

It's a shame the gulls are not edible, he adds with a wry smile.

"That would have limited their spread."

 

France, US clash with Iran over changing nuclear accord

Syria donors fall short of UN target without US aid

Same family names in Lebanon election

Turkey jails opposition daily journalists

Iraq’s ex-football stars from sports to politics

Morocco king visits police headquarters in Temara

Western powers dismiss claim that Syria chemical attack was staged

US defense secretary says 'no decision' yet on Iran deal

Israel flash floods leave several young people missing

Highs and lows in Egypt’s Operation Sinai

416 donors to IS identified in France

Five migrants die trying to cross Mediterranean

Rights architects nominated for UK art prize

In Iraq's Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

Philippines demands explanation after Kuwait expels ambassador

UK ‘seeking information’ over British-Iranian’s arrest

Macron says Trump may pull out of Iran nuclear deal

Turkey opposition journalists demand acquittal in terror trial

UN says Syria blocking humanitarian aid to Douma

OPCW experts visit second site of alleged Douma gas attack

Israeli policeman gets 9 months jail for killing Palestinian

US court rules for Arab Bank in precedent-setting case

Lebanese candidates pay hefty price for media coverage

Madani’s resignation sheds light on Iranian power play

Kuwait expels Filipino ambassador over treatment of workers

Syria aid donations for 2018 fall short of amount hoped

Growing anti-war sentiment in the US Congress could spell trouble for Trump

Liverpool’s Salah wins Israeli defence minister’s plaudits

Body of assassinated Palestinian driven through Malaysian capital

'Gap in perceptions' threatens wider Middle East war

UNESCO picks Morocco for project on prevention of violent extremism

Syrian regime retakes region near Damascus from rebels

Mogherini: Iran deal 'needs to be preserved'

Syria rebels prepare as Assad sets sights on next target

Iran's Rouhani questions 'right' to seek new nuclear deal

Iraq's Shiites split ahead of crucial vote

EU to Russia, Iran: Bring Syria to peace talks

Trump, Macron call for 'new' nuclear deal with Iran

Saudi Arabia claims killing of Yemen rebel leader

Syria's Idlib 'big new challenge' for international community

UNRWA chief says Palestinian aid $200 million short since Trump cuts

Bad memories resurface at Raqa’s mass grave

Turkey newspaper chief slams journalist terror trial

Setback for Yemen rebels after strike takes out leader

Saudi issues Islamic sukuk sale to finance deficit