Known to invade urban areas in search of food, seagulls are generally seen as a nuisance all over the Croatian coast. In Istria, the onslaught of gulls is being fought through measures such as nest monitoring and replacing seagull eggs with plastic fakes.
Further south, in the Dalmatian hinterland, things were taken up a notch with proper guards employed to fight the good fight against the annoying gulls.
For a while now, seagulls have been treating the stunning Blue Lake (Croatian: Modro jezero) in Imotski as their living room, and plastic eggs probably wouldn’t have been of much help here – the situation called for more extreme measures.
Enter the guards: Seka and Beatrice Bea, two female Harris’s hawks who’ve been tasked with keeping the Blue Lake safe from the gull invasion.
As reported by Slobodna Dalmacija, seagulls laid siege to the Blue Lake in Imotski about ten years ago and haven’t shown any intention to leave ever since.
Every year from the end of February to September, i.e. as long as there’s water in the lake, seagulls flock to the lake in large numbers, devastating the flora and fauna and inconveniencing the people of Imotski and their guests who often go swimming at the lake.
The gulls eradicated all the frogs, gone is the song of the blue rock thrush, and grass snakes have left the area too. Not to mention all the gull feathers and feces covering the rocks and cliffs around the lake aren’t exactly a pretty sight.
The Blue Lake in Imotski / Image by Yacht Rent, Creative Commons
There have been efforts to scare the gulls away with the sounds of cannon fire, firecrackers, scarecrows in various forms, but nothing seemed to work, and the seagulls kept flocking to the Blue Lake to rest after feasting at one of the landfills in the wider Imotski area.
And then came the hawk guards. Someone realised that the solution for the gull problem lies in nature, and soon there was talk of trained falcons and hawks, who apparently have the ability to make seagulls pretty nervous.
Falconers Emilio Međušić and Stipe Klisović of the Šibenik Falconry Center arrived in Imotski last year and brought a trained hawk along to test the hypothesis.
It only took for the hawk to spread his wings over the Blue Lake, and the flock of seagulls panicked and flew away in a frenzy. They reportedly sent a few scouts back to the lake some time later to see if the coast was clear, but as long as the hawk was seen somewhere in the area, not a single gull dared to fly down to the lake.
The Public Institution More i Krš (Sea and karst) and the City of Imotski decided to open two permanent positions for hawks to guard the lake from the pesky gulls. They acquired two hawks and ensured the birds were properly trained.
Grgo Nikolić from Imotski, a self-described bird lover and member of the hunters’ association Imotska Krajina, took over the training together with his son Slavko. They themselves trained at the Falconry Centre in Šibenik, and are now tasked with taking care of Seka and Beatrice Bea.
‘We’ve been working with Seka and Bea and we’re very pleased with what we achieved so far. We now have to get them accustomed to the environment they’ll be working in, our Blue Lake with its surroundings. We’re in the area every day, getting Seka and Bea familiar with every part of the lake, as that’s where they’ll be operating. Slavko and I both have to gain the full confidence of those birds; they’re starting to get settled in their new habitat, and are growing more accepting of us as their friends and trainers’, said Grgo.
Harris’s hawks / Pixabay
A few days ago, a handful of seagulls tried to scout the area and were promptly chasen away by Seka and Bea. The time of year when gulls are known to gather at the Blue Lake is fast approaching, so the two hawks will soon have a lot of work to do.
‘I’m convinced that Bea and Seka will manage to drive the gulls away, back to their main habitat on the other side of Biokovo mountain, where they could settle on the coast once and for all’, said Nikolić.
Imotski Tourist Board Director Luka Kolovrat is also pleased with Seka and Bea’s performance so far. He pointed out that the presence of two hawks might become a tourist attraction as well.
‘Last year, we saw just how much attention a single hawk from the Falconry Center drew among the tourists; they filmed the entire thing, asked about how the gulls are being chased away. Our Seka and Bea will surely make for a good addition to the tourist offer in our town’, said Kolovrat.