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."

 

Iraqi Kurds may postpone referendum in return for concessions

Assad says no Syria ties for countries backing rebels

Rouhani says top priority is protecting nuclear deal from US

Iraqi-Arab Gulf rapprochement makes headway

In Egypt, Syrian refugees recreate Syria

In African tour, Sisi seeks to rebuild ties, address security and water concerns

Syria’s transition scenarios for future rounds of talks

Dubai real estate market sets the pace for renewed growth in the GCC

German-Turkish intellectual held at Ankara’s request

Jordan’s municipal elections marred by deaths, riots

Russia doubts IS claim of stabbing attack in northern city

Turkey slams 'arrogant' German reaction to Erdogan poll call

Police confirm Finland 'terror attack'

Spain hunts suspects as IS claims attack

Aid project helps Syria refugees feel at home in Jordan

Lebanese army launches anti-IS offensive on Syria border

UN demands access to Yemen ports

Low-cost attacks a new reality for Europeans

Forces of Libya's Haftar say commander wanted by ICC in detention

Yemen rebels urged to free political commentator

Iranian footballer breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

Erdogan meddles in German politics

IS fighters almost encircled in Syrian desert

For Israel, White House ties trump neo-Nazis and antisemitism

Israel freezes implementation of settlement law

Saudi Arabia installing cranes at Yemen ports

13 dead, 100 injured in two Spanish seaside city attacks

Iran reform leader ends hunger strike

Van ploughs through pedestrians in Barcelona terror attack

13 killed in Barcelona van attack

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers

Syrian actress, activist Fadwa Suleiman dies in Paris

Israeli court extends detention for Islamic cleric over ‘incitement’

UAE to provide $15 million a month to Gaza

Sudan's Bashir 'satisfied' with Nile dam project

US-backed rebels say American presence in Syria to last ‘decades’

Tunisian clerics oppose equal inheritance rights for women

Israel strikes almost 100 Hezbollah arms convoys in 5 years

UN hopes for eighth round of Syria talks before year’s end

LONG READ: How Syria continues to evade chemical weapons justice

Civilians killed in US-led raids on Raqa

Qatari pilgrims begin flooding into Saudi by land