12 January 2010

Seagull & pigeon armies of Venice

Venice is in a large lagoon with lots of interesting birdlife. But the birds we see most commonly in the town are the species with more irritating habits. Scrawny sparrows fly off with bits of your meal in their beaks. But the worst are the seagulls and pigeons. As I write this I am fighting a defensive battle with a combined squad of seagulls and pigeons who are attacking the rubbish (garbage) bag hanging on my front door.

In Venice the rubbish is collected by workers who are also responsible for installing high-tide walkways and distributing grit, so in adverse conditions the rubbish is the lowest priority. Rubbish collectors wheel handcarts around the streets, collecting rubbish bags put out by residents between 6am and 8am (a rule to keep the city tidy and deter rats and seagulls). Local people do their best to keep the rubbish out of reach of pests, but the birds are pesky and inventive. Around my doorway, the pigeons gather awaiting a seagull with long enough legs and a strong enough beak to peck at my rubbish bag. I hear the knocking noise, go to the door, chase the seagull and attendant pigeons away, try to tie the bag up a bit higher. A few minutes later they're back. If I'm not attentive my rubbish ends up strewn over the canalside; the seagulls pull the bags apart and the pigeons scavenge for leftovers.

One night, when I lived in a narrow lane, I was woken by the most bloodcurling screams I'd ever heard. It was a young seagull pulling a rubbish bag apart; I understood then why we're not supposed to put rubbish out overnight - the neighbour who was responsible emerged guiltily at dawn to sweep up their litter. The wider lanes and canalsides are worst - there is room for seagulls to fly down and manoeuvre.

For a while I tried remonstrating with a neighbour who blithely throws bread down to wheeling seagulls from her first floor window. This is, quite reasonably, against the local laws (which now even ban pigeon-feeding in St. Mark's Square) as it encourages the litter-strewing nuisance and is hardly good for the birds. I gave up; she obviously loves attracting the birds which are a nuisance for ground-floor dwellers. Now it's back to getting up early, putting out the rubbish, and listening out, at the ready to defend it from winged marauders. Venice is a lovely place to live but it does have its inconveniences.

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