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Seagull attacks on the rise in Rome

Reports of seagull attacks rise during nesting season.

Love them or hate them, seagulls have been part of Rome's urban landscape for decades and can regularly be seen feasting on discarded food, pigeons and even rats.

The birds can also be decidedly aggressive towards humans, particularly during nesting season, with seagull attacks common on Roman rooftop terraces between March and May.

Since 2018, the Italian environmental association Earth has been collecting reports of this growing phenomenon in Rome, according to Il Messaggero newspaper.

"We receive more than 30 calls a week from people who don't know what to do because they have seagulls at their buildings that prevent them from accessing the terraces or roofs" - Valentina Coppola, ethologist and president of Earth told Il Messaggero - "The reason for the aggression is obviously the defence of the nests and the young."

The attacks are not confined to rooftops, however, with regular reports of gulls swooping on people out and about on the streets of Rome.

"I was walking holding a freshly baked calzone in my hand when, suddenly, a seagull swooped down on me, injuring my hand, to take my food away" - Lorenzo, a 34-year-old Roman told Il Messaggero - "Luckily I got away with putting on a plaster, but I can't imagine what would have happened if it had been a small child."

Another Rome resident, Maria, told the newspaper that she was attacked by a seagull on the roof of her apartment block, in an incident that gave her "an incredible fright" and almost risked her falling.

So what can be done to avoid difficult rooftop situations with aggressive seagulls? Not a whole lot, according to the experts.

"Not much can be done because destroying or moving nests is prohibited by city regulations and in the case of the death of the chicks it is a serious crime", warns Coppola who advises "going out on the terrace with an open umbrella to protect yourself from low-flying [gulls]".

Coppola says the best solution is prevention to ensure that the seagulls don't have access to the rooftops in the first place, by installing deterrents such as nylon nets.

However she said the real problem in Rome is the "open-air restaurants" provided by plentiful rubbish - particularly at bins outside fishmongers, butchers and markets - as well as food thrown on the ground by litter louts.

The first couple of nesting seagulls arrived in Rome in 1971, making their home at the zoo in Villa Borghese.

This remained an isolated case until the early 1980s when the numbers of nesting gulls began rising slowly in Rome, with many thousands of pairs now living in the capital.

For more insights on seagulls in Rome see Wanted in Rome feature article from 2016.

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