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New weapon in war against seagulls

Every summer, aggressive seagulls are the bane of stallholders and visitors alike in Helsinki’s central Market Square. While each sunny season brings a new strategy, this year -- at least for now -- square managers appear to have hit on a working solution.

kauppatori, lokki, merilokki, lintu, lokkisota
A sound recording of seagull squawking keeps flocks of birds at bay. Image: Yle/Tuomas Keränen

Each sunny season brings a new initiative in the war against the rodents of the sky who swoop to steal food from hapless merchants and members of the public. Operators in Helsinki's Market Square have found that bird nets, flags and intimidation tactics are no longer successful. The boldest and wiliest of offenders became immune to them long ago.

Gulls immune to intimidation

At the beginning of the summer the market managers tested falcon-shaped kites. Designed to look like birds of prey, the kites scared the birds for a few days, recalls Teo Lauerma, one of the market square’s daily seagull-patrol officers.

“The first flocks of gulls tended to leave upon sighting the 'falcons', but the effect quickly wore off.

After that at least one of a seagulls tried to attack the kite,” Lauerma recounts.

Swinging flags at the gulls to shoo them off has also proved unsuccessful. It simply requires too much manpower to displace the hundreds of birds continuously.

Bird nets work in some way, but the gull guards no longer trust them.

“Seagulls are flying under the net constantly – it no longer offers protection,” says the experienced gull buff.

New weapon in war on wings

Never ones to shy away from a challenge, Market Square gull operatives have hit on an entirely different airborne solution to the problem.

“When one seagull hears another seagull’s squawk it flees to warn others,” notes Lauerma. “Gulls mimic each other very well and it sparks a chain reaction.”

This observation prompted seagull guards play a sound recording several times a day. Individual gulls might return to the marketplace, but large flocks have been broken up. Gull patrollers and merchants have already noticed positive effects.

“Especially, the large flocks here have been completely eradicated – they no longer exist,” Lauerma says of the situation in the Market Square.

The recording does not interfere with people, so it is unproblematic for merchants and visitors alike.

The recording sounds like a screaming seagull but by the seaside at the Market Square the noise is not out of place. Lauerma claims that people do not usually even notice the noise amid the bustle of the market place.

“Unless someone pointed out that we were playing a recorded sound, no one would ever notice,” Lauerma states. “Tourists don’t pay attention to the sound.”

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