Bird management achieving TasPorts' 'gulls'

With its distinctive white head, light grey back and black-tipped wings, the Silver Gull is a common visitor of Tasmanian ports.


05 October 2022



Where seagulls dare to fly

The Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae) is probably one of Australia’s most recognised bird species. With its distinctive white head, tail and underpants, with a light grey back, black-tipped wings and bright orange bill and legs, it is likely you’ve encountered the species while trying to enjoy a picnic lunch or as you walk out of your local fish and chip shop.

Susan McLeod, TasPorts’ Manager of Environment and Sustainability, has observed, as with many other gull species, that the Silver Gull is a successful scavenger, locating itself near human activity where handouts and scraps are readily available.

“Being near the water and close to food sources, both natural and waste foods, means that our ports are a great hang out spot and breeding location,” said Susan.

This scavenging behaviour has the public labelling the bird as a ‘nuisance’, particularly when nature calls and bird mess litters our pavement, buildings, vehicles and vessels. Some say it’s lucky to be messed on, we’re not so sure.

"Our management strategies include preventing unnatural feeding behaviours, discouraging visitors at our ports from feeding the birds and installing bins that are covered. It is not a good idea to feed the birds, it's actually not healthy for their diet," said Susan.

Since the 1960s, scavenging and aggressive bird behaviour has increased in Tasmania, and continues to be an issue that requires active management by TasPorts at its locations across the State. We are responsible for eleven ports and the Devonport Airport and with the increase of colonies, our Environmental Team has been working with a number of specialist bird management consultants to review our current practices.

“Discouraging the birds from roosting and breeding in particular port areas, but still coexisting is part of the strategies TasPorts are looking to implement state-wide,” said Susan.

Any birds in large numbers can create problems, with aggressive behaviour around breeding season being of particular concern. For port users and visitors, the Silver Gull has become a concern, not only because of aggressive behaviour, but also due to the impact on surrounding infrastructure, with bird droppings contaminating work areas, cargo, plant and equipment.

"A lot of hours go into management of the Silver Gulls from our sites, particularly here in Hobart," said Assistant Operations Supervisor, Stephen Beer.

It’s important to note, the issue of bird droppings goes far beyond having an aesthetically pleasing port location to admire. There are significant biosecurity concerns related to excess droppings on cargo and equipment due to be shipped to, for example, Antarctica.

“We have a number of stakeholders around the port who have an expectation of site cleanliness, particularly when we have the Antarctic research vessels in port, contamination of these vessels can have dire consequences if not acted upon before departing for the Southern Ocean,” notes Stephen

This results in additional cleaning and cost prior to heading south to ensure the pristine southern continent isn’t contaminated by waste.

This is particularly a challenge during breeding season, between late August through to February. In Tasmania, Silver Gulls frequently breed on harbour breakwaters which are usually constructed of large boulders, sometimes in association with reclaimed land.

Stephen said, “Particularly over the breeding season, we can see literally thousands of Silver Gulls around the Port of Hobart. Even during the COVID pandemic, when there were less people around to scavenge from, they were still here in numbers. It can actually get a bit overwhelming at times.”

With the majority of our work locations also being the prime Silver Gull breeding grounds we needed a plan. Through extensive collaboration across the business, our Environment Team developed the TasPorts’ Environmental Standard – Birds, which was approved in 2021.

Changing the behaviour of the Silver Gull has required collaboration with professional bird management consultants and some creative thinking. Some Silver Gulls can live up to 30 years, and we all know how hard it is to break habits as we grow older. It is also important to remember that Silver Gulls are a protected species in Tasmania, so management of their habitat needs to be done with careful consideration.

A key requirement of the bird standard is for each port to develop a port-specific bird management plan that prioritises methods that prevent and deter birds from nesting, roosting and loafing at the port.

Measures such as lids or covers on bins prevents attracting birds to the port. Installing spikes, nets and wire mesh on structures deters birds from landing on surfaces and building nests. Sprinklers and scare cannons may also be used to make areas less attractive.

Another example of bird management is the installation of a bird deterrent system known as Eagle Eyes, which we have installed at Kings Pier Marina at the Port of Hobart. This installation follows work with a number of bird management professionals to check what methods were available and to seek advice on the best way forward.

We’ve only just begun! As new and innovative methods of bird management are discovered, we look forward to a time where we can happily co-exist with our feathered friends, without fear of losing our hot chips.