A zoologist in Rome claims that, as Covid-19 has forced restaurants and cafes in Italy’s capital to close, hungry seagulls have resorted to eating rats and pigeons to make up for the lack of manmade food. Without food scraps from the city’s tourists, the birds have been spotted attacking and eating more living animals than usual, including some of Rome’s less welcome vermin.
"Animals are changing their habits as we change ours,” zoologist Bruno Cignini told local newspaper Corriere della Sera. Mr Cignini, who works at Rome University Tor Vergata, said: “They are catching mostly pigeons but also swallows and black birds. They’re also going after fish in the Tiber. Luckily, they are also eating rats.”
While the emergency of these “killer gulls” might seem shocking to some, seagulls eating living or dead animals, or killing animals for their consumption, isn’t unusual. As opportunistic feeders, gulls are known to eat just about anything and will adapt their feeding strategy depending on what’s most available to them. It’s possible lockdown may have pushed more birds into feeding on pigeons and rats as they grow more desperate without scraps from tourists, but it’s also possible that the behavior has simply become more apparent under lockdown as the empty streets no longer distract passersby from the behaviors of these hardy animals.
The population of seagulls in Rome has seen a veritable boom in recent years, leading to the former deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, to joke that the birds were “the size of pterodactyls” during a Twitter argument with Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi. Meanwhile, ongoing issues with the collection and processing of litter in the city are believed to have caused a similar boom in the city’s rat population in recent years.
Having seen their fewest number of deaths from Covid-19 since lockdown began on March 10 at just 174, Italy is preparing to slowly introduce a return to daily life this week. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has instructed that manufacturing and construction companies can return to business as usual with retail following suit in the coming fortnight.
[H/T: Corriere della Sera]