Mumbai: Farsan-greedy seagulls become Marine Drive's new nuisance

Updated: Feb 25, 2018, 15:38 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Tossing bagfuls of refined carb to seagulls out of love and charity is ruining their health, making them aggressive and prepping ground for an accident, says letter to forest department


Ever been to Marine Drive at dawn and stumbled upon a scene right out of the Hitchcock movie, The Birds? Every morning, as the sun rises, a swarm of seagulls descends upon the promenade. Unlike the movie, the birds don't attack people, and are content to feast on farsan offered by delighted visitors. But how long until the seagulls realise it's easier to just grab the bag of chips from your hand, rather than wait for you to fling scraps at them?

Sunrise at Marine Drive looks like a scene stright out of Hitchcock's horror film, The Birds
Sunrise at Marine Drive looks like a scene stright out of Hitchcock's horror film, The Birds

Girgaum resident Sunita Karekar recently went to Marine Drive for a morning walk, and found thousands of seagulls feasting on farsan, of all things. "A fortnight ago, when I went to Marine Drive, I saw people feeding gathia to the birds. I explained that it is harmful for the birds. But a few days ago, when I returned, I saw visitors feeding the birds yet again. The authorities should stop this," she said.

A citizen offers farsan to the gulls
A citizen offers farsan to the gulls

Bad for birds and us
Karekar is right to worry, for the birds' sake and humans too. The love affair with seagulls is doomed to be short-lived, as countries all over the world have demonstrated from time and time again. Experts warn that feeding the gulls can dull their fear of people, and can make them aggressive when they're jonseing for human food. The seagull menace is particularly bad in the UK, where the bloodthirsty birds have been known to attack children and kill dogs for food.

Seagulls gorge on several kilograms of fafda fed by visitors at Marine Drive
Seagulls gorge on several kilograms of fafda fed by visitors at Marine Drive

It's already starting here, too. Prabhu Swami, a bird rescue worker, said, "Once, I was on a ferry to Mandwa, when I saw a seagull swoop in and grab someone's packet of chips." "People like to feed chips and other snacks to the gulls in the belief that they are doing a good deed, but it only causes harm to the birds. It makes them bolder, and when they lose their fear of humans, they can become aggressive and dangerous," he added.

Dr Deepa Katyal, a veterinarian, said, "Feeding human food to birds can affect their health. It could result in kidney and liver disease, and lead to nutrition problems." "Eventually, the birds start stealing food from people. The best example is that of monkeys - we feed them fruits and other items, but then blame the animal when it tries to snatch food from people. There is a line between human and wildlife and we should respect that," she added.

Apart from making them homicidal, feeding the seagulls often draws them to the seashore in larger numbers. A 2008 study by the Massachusetts water supply authorities found gulls were congregating in massive numbers on the water, leading to an increase in bird droppings and decrease in water quality.

Widespread problem
Karekar took pictures and videos of citizens feeding farsan to the birds, and sent it to animal activist Pawan Sharma, who agreed to take up the matter with the authorities. The practice is also common at Nariman Point, said Sharma, honorary wildlife warden of Thane and president of the NGO RAWW. "I have written to the Deputy Conservator of Forest at the Mangrove Cell. This feeding activity is carried out daily, between 7 am and 7.15 am, opposite the police gymkhana at Marine Drive. A group of people are feeding hundreds of kilograms of harmful farsan to seagulls. This is not only harmful to the birds, but also impacts their wild instincts and changes their food preferences. The authorities should take action and stop this," he said.

Karekar's pictures and videos have also been sent to the forest department, local BMC ward office, deputy commissioner of police (Zone I), Additional PCCF at the Mangrove Cell, and the honorary wildlife warden of Mumbai.
'What can we do?' Kiran Dighavakar, assistant municipal commissioner of A-ward, said, "We cannot take action against people feeding birds. If we find the area dirty, the clean-up marshals will take action, as they always patrol in the area in the morning and evening."

N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), from the state Mangrove Cell, said, "We have not received any complaint about people feeding junk food to seagulls. The only thing our staff can do is to visit the spot and educate people about the negative impact on the health of the birds."

Nightmare in UK
>> Reality TV mogul Simon Cowell got his dogs fitted with gull-proof helmets, after seagulls killed a dog and tortoise in 2015.
>> Former UK PM David Cameron donated £250,000 to the Sussex council to tackle aggressive gulls.
>> In 2002, an 80-year-old in Wales died of a heart attack after a flock of gulls swooped on him, knocked him off a wall and pecked at his unconscious body.
>> In Cornwall, seagulls have torn food right out of the mouths of children. In March 2017, a seven-year-old boy in Plymouth had to be rushed to hospital after gulls attacked him for a doughnut.

Stop the feeding frenzy
Good for gulls: Insects, worms and, best of all, fish. Seagulls have been known to follow fishing boats out into the sea in search of an easy catch.
Bad for birds: Chips, bread, biscuits, or anything with salt, which pretty much covers all man-made food. It can cause liver or kidney damage, and also impact their food preferences.

Bird behaviour
Favourite haunts: Marine Drive, Nariman Point, Mandwa jetty, ferry route to Alibaug
Timings: They can be spotted at the seaside from sunrise to 8 am
Species sighted: Black-headed gull, brown-headed gull and slender-billed gull.
"The black-headed and brown-headed gulls migrate here from Tibet, and the slender-billed gull migrates from Siberia and central Asia," said bird expert Aadesh Shivkar.

Also read: Mumbai: Flamingos Take Flight From Sewri As Construction Booms

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