Vatican Corner 11-18-18

Traditionally sea gulls have lived around water, with some living inland but near rivers or reservoirs. However increasingly they are living in towns and cities and many have given up living by water entirely. Experts say that one reason is that the birds have found that by nesting on roofs they can avoid predators and consequently more chicks survive. Also food waste in landfills and discarded on urban streets provides ready meals. Sea gulls are extremely adaptable, quick thinking and bold. Cities provide many opportunities for them to take advantage of human wastefulness. Rome is 20 miles from the sea and the sea gulls- species Larus michahellis followed the Tiber River upstream to Rome. Their population has grown in recent years to the tens of thousands. The bird’s size has also grown as they gorge on uncollected trash, handouts from tourists and stolen meals from pedestrians. After the closing of Rome’s massive Malagrotia garbage dump in 2013, the birds migrated into urban areas. Sea gulls have made outdoor dining in Rome miserable. They wait on roof tops and watch for someone to leave the table, or occasionally they snap up something from the table while it is still occupied. One news story tells of a woman discovering an aggressive gull in her kitchen that was stabbing her garbage bag with its beak. It would not leave even though she threw a slipper at it and banged the wall. She described it as “enormous, above my knee, as big as an American wild turkey.” It stayed until it was done eating and then flew back out the window. That sea gull species can live for decades, has a taste for pigeons, bats, starlings, sometimes other sea gulls, and is a serious protector of its territory. There was a news story from the Vatican in January, 2014 when during a Sunday prayer for peace, two children straddling Pope Francis at his window in the Apostolic Palace released two white doves. A sea gull aided by a crow immediately attacked the doves in mid-air. One dove was grabbed and lost its tail feathers. It was unknown if the doves escaped their attackers. Some people thought it to be a bad omen. Animal activist called on Pope Francis to end the practice of releasing doves. Now balloons are used instead. When Pope Francis blessed the outdoor Christmas nativity scene in 2017, about 500 screaming sea gulls suddenly flew up from behind the basilica and circled the nativity, and then flew off. Some people again thought it an ominous sign. In the early morning on Easter Sunday in 2017, the Dutch florists discovered that sea gulls had attacked the flowers they placed adorning Saint Peter’s Square. The sea gulls were apparently looking for food. To prevent flower damage in 2018, the Dutch florists used a green laser light shining across the flowers. The gulls do not like that light and it was used during the quiet Saturday night and Easter Sunday morning hours when there was no one in the Square. No damage was observed by the gulls so the laser was ruled a success. Sea gulls are just one of God’s creatures following their natural instincts, and now they have come to Rome to stay.