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The birds ... The Waitaki District Council has a long-term plan to relocate red-billed gulls to Cape Wanbrow, but needs everyone to participate in the effort. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Do your part.

That is the message the Waitaki District Council has for Oamaru building owners as the red-billed gull (tarapunga) breeding season approaches.

For the past four years, the protected gulls have made Oamaru’s town centre their home – much to the disdain of business owners.

This migration occurred around the time of the Oamaru landfill’s closure in 2017, and many people believed it was connected.

Regardless of what prompted the gull’s initial migration, the council is trying to encourage another migration to a site outside of the town centre – but it needs building owners to play their part.

Waitaki District Council projects and assets officer Toby Armour said although the birds would not move very far at a time, the long-term goal was to eventually relocate them to a site on Cape Wanbrow.

As part of ongoing efforts made by the council, the Otago Peninsula Trust, and the Department of Conservation, 15 decoy gulls had been placed on the cape, and more were being made by community groups.

Predator traps and elevated platforms for nests were also installed in the effort to make the cape a more ideal habitat than the town.

“It’s not a short-term fix,” Mr Armour said.

While it might be too late for some, it was vital building owners discouraged nesting in town – otherwise the relocation might not stick.

Mr Armour said there needed to be a “year-round” effort to keep rooftops clear as the gulls had two cycles – nesting and roosting. If the gulls had a comfortable breeding season, they were more likely to return.

“This is the cycle we need to break.”

While red-billed gulls seem abundant in Oamaru, they are actually in decline nationally and are a protected species under the Wildlife Act. It is illegal to kill or disturb them, or remove their nests once they have been formed.

But it was unnecessary to disturb them anyway, Mr Armour said. If the birds were simply made “uncomfortable”, they would get “fed up and leave”, he said.

This had been successfully done in the past.

After several years of problem-level numbers nesting in the Coquet St area, the birds made a mass move to Lower Thames St last year.

Although they moved a relatively short distance, the aim was to shift the birds little by little until they relocated to the cape, Mr Armour said.

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said while the council provided information and support to building owners, some were better than others at discouraging nesting.

Mr Kircher said if everybody checked and cleared building rooftops regularly, the birds would be encouraged to move on.

Doc Oamaru ranger Tom Waterhouse said deterring the gulls from setting up nests in the first place was the best strategy.

“Building owners that have installed deterrents such as motion activated sprinklers have had success discouraging the gulls from settling – other building owners have had good results from regularly checking their rooftops and clearing it of debris, ” Mr Waterhouse said.

“The gulls are noisy neighbours, and their nesting material can clog gutters and lead to expensive repairs, so it’s cheapest and easiest to act early and encourage them to nest elsewhere.”

Doc did not have an estimate of how many gulls were in Oamaru and was not aware of any established nests in the town centre this season – but it was likely that if there were not any yet, there would be some very soon, Mr Waterhouse said.

Gulls had been seen at the relocation site on the Cape, and while no nests had been formed there yet, it was still early in the breeding season, he said.