Mullingar is now home to a population of Herring Gulls, a bird normally associated with seaside towns.
It’s extremely unusual for a town in the heart of the midlands, and a number of Herring, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed gulls have been spotted and identified in and around town – but it is the Herring Gulls that have made the flat roofs of central Mullingar their home.
The Herring Gull is understood to be nesting near the social welfare building in Blackhall, on the flat roof of the ESB building, and in other locations around town, including Mullingar Credit Union and the uniquely designed County Buildings.
Very vocal of late, they are at their loudest during the morning times and throughout the day, and that is due to the fact that it’s nearing the end of nesting season which began in early May, as Brian Burke of BirdWatch Ireland explained.
Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed gulls have also been sighted in the area and are believed to be nesting relatively nearby, on one of the lakes, or might just have arrived for the winter.
“Mullingar wasn’t on our radar to date in terms of roof-nesting gulls, so it’s interesting to hear that they’re moving that far inland,” says Brian, who adds the latest citizens of Mullingar could become a project of study for BirdWatch Ireland and National Parks and Wildlife in the future.
“It is unusual to hear that they are there, but not completely unexpected.
“As people have moved into their natural habitat, they are moving further inland to find safe places to nest.”
The Herring Gull is traditionally a coastal species. They nest on the ground on offshore islands and in recent decades have been nesting on roofs along coastal towns in Dublin and Waterford.
"Now they are starting to move inland at bit more, but Mullingar would be the most inland we’ve heard of them nesting,” said Brian.
Herring Gulls are a large gull with light grey wings and back that typically nest on roofs by the coast but have also been recorded in some inland towns – such as Navan.
A red-listed species because of historical declines in their Irish breeding population numbers and range, they are a species in danger and under conservation.
So what do they eat? This far inland, away from their usual hunting ground of the sea, where they typically follow fishing boats, Brian explains that the Herring Gull has “a very flexible diet”.
“They tend to scavenge rather than hunt, so they could be eating fish, worms, roadkill, discarded food... A bit of everything.”
Herring Gulls have earned themselves attention in the past, especially in Dublin, with regard to noise, stealing food and swooping down on people.
“They get used to humans. People throw them chips, and while some gulls are shy, others are not, and they begin to associate humans with food.
“They have come to media attention in the past for their behaviour, and there is a potential for conflict, but what I would say to people is to be mindful of them during nesting season.
“They will defend their nests and young the best they can, so anyone up on roofs will be viewed as potential predators.
“They are afraid for their chicks, but that problem should die down in a couple of weeks, at the end of nesting season.
“We have six breeding species of gulls in Ireland, at least four of which breed inland in varying numbers. There is one particular species of gull that nests in Lough Ree, part of which is in Westmeath of course.”