An invasion of seagulls in Paris has locals in a flap as many complain the birds’ raucous cries are becoming a public nuisance.
A good two-hour drive from the sea, Paris is far more accustomed to the cooing of pigeons or the chatter of sparrows than the shrieking of seagulls.
However, the wind appears to be changing, with pigeons and Parisians increasingly forced to contend with a rising number of the noisy seabirds heading inland for rich pickings.
Sabine Hourdin, 49, a Parisian dance teacher in Paris’ 11th arrondissement – one of the worst affected – said their Hitchcock-style dawn shrieking scared the wits out of her the first time she heard it this summer.
“It was a horrible noise, like someone being tortured or kittens being strangled – something between laughing and crying.
“This wasn’t the distant sound of seagulls by the sea, it was more like hyaenas fighting for the same prey. It’s a frightful racket,” she said.
Mathieu Franot, a clarinettist and music director who lives in a garret flat eastern Paris, said the birds were the latest ordeal in a particularly trying summer.
“First we had the heatwave, then a wave of mosquitos and now it’s seagulls. As well as their cries, they wake us up hopping around our skylight on the zinc roof," he told the Telegraph.
They were particularly rowdy on Tuesdays and Fridays when fishmongers at the local Belleville market throw away fish heads and guts, he said.
Favourite perches for the argumentative birds are the fire-damaged Notre-Dame Cathedra on the île de la Cité, surrounded by the Seine, as well as the old Jewish quarter of Le Marais.
Jean-Philippe Siblet, an ornithologist at the Natural History Museum in Paris, said the gulls’ urban uptick was likely linked to dwindling food supplies in their natural coastal habitat, upset by overfishing, tourism and construction.
Paris, France’s food capital, was, by comparison, an easy option.
"In winter they think nothing of flying dozens of kilometres to an open-air dump… they eat plenty and are therefore more likely to survive, which means each year they are more numerous to return (to Paris)," Mr Siblet told AFP.
Paris’ roofs keep the birds well away from any potential threats.
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"The only predators they need to watch out for are cats and foxes, which rarely make it to those heights," said Mr Siblet.
From a few couples in the early 1990s, the number of Parisian gulls has risen to up to 60 breeding pairs that produce three chicks a year, he added. The figures tally with a 2013 estimate from the ornithology centre for the greater Paris region.
Now, however, they have diversified with the large herring gull now sharing the Parisian turf with black-backed gulls, yellow-legged gulls and at least one Caspian gull.
Locals, however, say there has been a marked surge this summer.
In their defence, Mr Siblet said the population rise was “reasonable” and that the birds generally quit shrieking at the end of the nesting season that runs from March to late August.
Besides, when it came to noise pollution, ambulance and police sirens or “the neighbour drilling a hold in the wall to hang a mirror” were far worse, he suggested.
Given Parisians propensity to look at each other up and down, they may take comfort from recent research suggesting that staring at seagulls is the best way to stop them stealing your French fries.