Hobart’s seagulls get fat from too many hot chips

MARK COLVIN: It’s not just humans who suffer through eating junk food, like takeaway chips. It seems that fat seagulls in Hobart are also demonstrating the dangers of eating poorly. Add to that high levels of seagull cholesterol, and you’ve got a weighty problem with environmental consequences.

Tim Jeanes reports.

(Sound of Neil Diamond, ‘Skybird’: “Skybird, make your sail. And every heart will know of the tale.”)

TIM JEANES: Move over Jonathon Livingstone, it seems Jonathon Goodliving Seagull is the new type of seabird to hit town, specifically Hobart town, where a ready diet of chips and other human delicacies from the local tip is turning them into flying fatties.

Ornithologist Heidi Auman has compared the Hobart birds with those on Bass Strait islands which feed on a natural diet of insects, crustaceans and berries.

She says like humans, the end result is a good advertisement for a more natural diet.

HEIDI AUMAN: I’m really starting to get some interesting results back right now. These birds here in Hobart have higher cholesterol and higher glucose in their blood than my control birds from the Flinders Island group. And these birds here are significantly heavier.

And what I mean by that is structurally they’re exactly the same size – head to bill, the bill measurements, the keel measurements. They’re exactly the same size structurally. But these birds are heavier, they’re fatter.

TIM JEANES: With a diet like this, it’s not hard to see why.

HEIDI AUMAN: The foods that I do know they’re eating, and I know this because they regurgitate on me as I’m taking blood samples, tend to be a lot of meat products like mince and cooked chicken, dog food and cat food, sometimes they’re still in the little shape of fish for the cat food, and casserole and things of that nature, and a lot of chips.

(Sound of seagulls squawking)

TIM JEANES: Down at Hobart’s waterfront this afternoon and chips from holidaymakers were on the lunch menu for the local gulls.

Heidi Auman says feeding the seagulls may be an Australian past time that needs a rethink.

HEIDI AUMAN: They think they’re doing the birds a favour, but they’re really not. This is not part of the gulls’ natural fare. The silver gulls here are laying more eggs than they would in the control sites that are clean, however the quality of these eggs is probably not as high.

They’re getting the fats and the proteins they need from their tip and human-fed diet, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a healthier chick, and they probably don’t fledge as many chicks.

MARK COLVIN: Ornithologist Heidi Auman ending that report from Tim Jeanes.

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