Gulls work through shock and awe. They’ll fill their bellies with just about anything, ganging up on sickly rats, or snatching up small fish or not-so-nutritious cigarette butts. While similar to raccoons in how well they’ve adapted to human settlement, gulls are the opposite of stealthy, dive-bombing the heads of small children and emitting ear-piercing shrieks. The state Department of Natural Resources recommends keeping your pets away from gulls; a tussle might not go well for Charlie the Chihuahua.
If you were thinking about fighting back, think again. As migratory birds, gulls and their nests are protected under federal law, meaning you need a special permit to cull gulls or oil their eggs, semi-popular strategies to fight the winged menace.
Or you could call Jeff Schukow of Great Lakes Avian Pest Control in Sheboygan, the man whose $3,000 Falcon Patrol unit simulates the gulls’ fiercest natural predator: the peregrine falcon. Set to a timer, the system periodically emits a terrifying screech and swings a decoy around a central base. In recent years, Schukow has sold a number of the units up and down the Lake Michigan coast, including three for the Milwaukee County Courthouse, where they were needed to keep gulls from pooping on judges as they walked into work. (In early 2018, so many gathered over the building that they briefly triggered a UFO scare on WITI-TV’s “WakeUp” program.)
In the spring of 2018, Sheboygan bought one for the Sheboygan Water Utility on Lake Michigan. The sheer amount of droppings and feathers had grown to epidemic proportions, and the city didn’t want to pay as much as the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee had (over $75,000) in the early 2000s for an intricate system of wires to prevent nesting. Schukow says the unit did the trick, and the fauna moved on to another roof, another flat area.
People tease him that, like gambling, his is a business that creates its own demand as the gulls move from building to building. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, you’ve got a good thing going here,’” he says. “But I don’t like it either.”
Know Your Gull
THE MOST PREVALENT gull species in Wisconsin are herring and ring-billed gulls. And these omnivores are crafty: Some have learned to stamp their feet on the ground to imitate the sound of rain to coax tasty earthworms to the surface. While not so useful here, gulls have special glands that expel salt and allow them to drink seawater.