1. In response to a purported 'bird-strike problem' at J.F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, we examined short (5 cm) and long (45 cm) grass heights as gull deterrents, in a randomized-block experiment. 2. Vegetative cover, numbers of adult insects and of larval beetles (suspected on-airport food of the gulls) were sampled in the six-block, 36-plot study area, as well as gut contents of adult and downy young gulls in the immediately adjacent colony in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. 3. We found that (i) Oriental beetle larvae were the most numerous and concentrated in one experimental block; (ii) beetle larvae numbers were uncorrelated with grass height; (iii) adult beetles were also uncorrelated with grass height; (iv) laughing gulls were distributed across blocks irrespective of percentage cover; (v) within blocks, laughing gulls were selecting short grass and avoiding long grass plots; (vi) laughing gull numbers were positively associated with numbers of Oriental beetle larvae; (vii) adult laughing gulls on the airport were eating lower-nutrition food of terrestrial origin (74-83% adult beetles, mostly Oriental plus green June and ground beetles); (viii) on the other hand, gull chicks in the adjacent breeding colony were being fed more easily digested, higher-protein food of marine origin (86-88% fishes, crustacea and molluscs); (ix) laughing gulls on the airport were taking their adult beetles only in short-grass plots, ignoring large numbers in adjacent long grass; (x) during the summer, on-airport gulls shifted from performing largely maintenance activities on pavement to feeding actively for beetles on newly mown short grass, the change coinciding with adult beetle emergence; (xi) standing water on the airport attracted significantly more gulls than dry areas all summer long. 4. We recommend a series of ecologically compatible, but aggressive habitat management actions for controlling laughing gulls on Kennedy Airport by rendering the airport unattractive to them, notably by implementing an airport-wide programme of long-grass encouragement, draining standing water and improving runoff in water-collecting areas, and controlling beetles. 5. We conclude by outlining the necessity for airport-wide bird, vegetation and habitat management programmes fully integrated into airport operation and planning activities.
Additional publication details
Insects, vegetation, and the control of laughing gulls (Larus atricilla) at Kennedy International Airport, New York