Decoys to attract re-billed gulls away from Oamaru’s central business district have not had the desired impact and further measures will need to be investigated, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says.
At the end of winter last year, the Waitaki District Council cleared boxthorn from a roughly 100sq m area in a remote corner of Cape Wanbrow, some distance from its well-used walking tracks, in an attempt to provide a more natural habitat for the birds before the breeding season began.
That included 3D-printed decoy gulls being placed at the site in the hope of luring the large number of birds that have settled on buildings, primarily in Coquet and lower Thames Sts.
The use of decoys worked well in Auckland, albeit in different circumstances, but the experiment failed in Oamaru and other solutions will have to be found, Mr Kircher said.
“The Auckland situation was basically moving them 150m and there was various other elements like that, that made it an easier job. While some seagulls landed there, they didn’t stay. We have got to give them a reason to move away from where they are and move to the Cape.
“For us, the challenge is there needs to be a two-pronged approach where not only do we make [Cape Wanbrow] an attractive place to move to, but unattractive to be where they currently are in the CBD. That’s where discussions with Doc are going to be necessary.”
After the council used a drone to survey potential nesting sites last year, several building owners in the central business district opted to fly dark-coloured, bird-shaped kites to detract birds from landing, an initiative that has had some success.
Under the Wildlife Act, once nests have been formed, they cannot be removed.
Meanwhile, a solution may have been found by the council to tackle the unsightly mess being left on the footpath in Coquet St by the endangered gulls.
Council roading manager Mike Harrison confirmed one cleaning option had been tested and was “so successful no other methods have been trialled at this time”.
The process involved cleaning footpaths with a high-pressure water hose and vacuum truck.
It will now be assessed as to how often cleaning may need to be done and what the likely cost will be, Mr Harrison said.
“We are currently watching the build-up return to decide when the next cleaning would need to occur.
“This will inform us on how often cleaning would be required, and therefore what the annual costs could be.”
Although the testing had not hit ratepayers in the pocket, maintenance programmes were funded by a combination of rates and NZ Transport Agency investment, he said.
“The full cost effect will not be known until the number of cleans per year are confirmed. At the time we have settled on how we clean, and how often, we will be able to report on the cost to ratepayers of the gull cleaning programme.”
The red-billed gulls issue came to the fore earlier this month when former Oamaru Borough Council deputy mayor Dr Ron Sim called for the birds to be “exterminated” and a law change made to allow that to happen.
As the birds are protected, they cannot be culled.
Department of Conservation coastal Otago operations manager Mike Hopkins said the numbers of red-billed gulls were declining at an “alarming rate’.
New Zealand’s population of red-billed gulls has decreased by 50% since 1994 and, at present, has a conservation status of “at-risk: declining”.
“It’s important to remember tarapunga are fully protected under the Wildlife Act. The offence of hunting or killing absolutely protected wildlife carries a maximum penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $100,000, or both,” Mr Hopkins said.
Doc continued to provide advice to the Waitaki District Council to manage the problem, Mr Hopkins said.