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Where have Melbourne’s seagulls gone?

Birds known to disturb batsmen; trained eagles deployed to ensure uninterrupted cricket.

Cricket World Cup 2015, World Cup 2015, India, India World Cup 2015, Australia World Cup 2015, World Cup 2015 Australia, MCG, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Cricket News, Cricket Zorro, the eagle, who keeps the seagulls away.

As the Indians were wrapping up their quarterfinal against Bangladesh, about 20 seagulls descended on the central square to catch some worms, moths and, maybe, cricket. (Full Coverage| Points table| Fixtures)

The iconic MCG backdrop was complete as the victorious Men in Blue walked off the pristine green turf with the snowwhite birds flying around them in lazy circles. It was a rare sight, as the game’s old feathered friends were making their first and, maybe, last World Cup appearance at this sea-side venue that will host the final in 10 days.

So where have the seagulls gone?

Well, it’s not that they have changed their sport or have developed an aversion for the shorter version played under lights. On Monday, there were about 500 wanting to get inside the stadium but Zorro and Sabrina, the eagles, shooed them away.

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The four-year-old male and the 17-year-old female, tethered and perched on the roof with their handlers, have minimised the mass-migration from the sky that had the potential of interfering with the play. Even the 20 who sneaked past the eagle-eyes were responsible for umpire Ian Gould stopping R Ashwin and Umesh Yadav in their tracks as the flight of seagulls was disturbing the batsmen.

Of late, Australian Rules Football (AFL) first and cricket later, aren’t too keen on the noisy, unsporting interference from the skies that had been a charming part of MCG in the past.

Cricket World Cup 2015, World Cup 2015, India, India World Cup 2015, Australia World Cup 2015, World Cup 2015 Australia, MCG, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne, Cricket News, Cricket

Graeme Coles, owner and operator of Full Flight, an agency that supplies and trains the big birds, was on the MCG roof with what he calls his “grumpy teenaged pet Sabrina”.

“There are thousands of seagulls around MCG, and around twilight when the floodlights are switched on they descend. They are looking for natural and human-made food. The lights attract lots of insects and there is food for seagulls in the stands too. It is tough for the cameras to show but there were about 500 hovering over the stadium on Thursday. I was on one roof with Sabrina and Zorro was on another. They are tethered and can’t keep all of them out. About 20 flew in,” he said.

Zorro’s keeper is Coles’s colleague Alison.

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The spokeswoman of Melbourne Cricket Club, Sarah Gordon, said that the first trial to scare native birds such as seagulls was done during a preliminary AFL final.

Gordon sounds confident about the March 29 final being bird-free. “The eagles make up just one part of our seagull prevention system. For other games, the television broadcasters employ Spidercam, which has wires suspended from the stadium roof. These wires, along with the movement of the camera, create another level of deterrent for the birds. As the camera was not used in the India vs Bangladesh quarterfinal, the seagulls were kept away from the stadium by the tethered eagles.”

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Shooing away seagulls isn’t as simple as calling Full Flight and signing a contract, in these parts. It needs permissions. “Birds at stadiums are not permitted without authorisation from Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) under the Wildlife Act. Each time we have had the eagles present, it has been with the approval of DEPI,” said Gordon.

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Coles, 49, has spent about three decades training birds, and the aerial guards at MCG are just two of the 50 feathered employees he has. The New Zealand-born, Melbourne-resident’s hands are tied when it comes to ensuring an undisturbed sporting contest. He thinks that a flying falcon can do a better job but for that they would need another set of permissions.

Point out to the MCG spokeswoman that many around the world, who have grown up watching cricket from Australia, miss the seagulls and she acknowledges the emotion. “We recognise that the number of gulls had become an aesthetic issue for the AFL and cricket, patrons and broadcasters,” she said, hinting at the organisers’ commitment to provide uninterrupted sporting contest.

Gordon goes to explain that ‘eagles on roof’ is a natural, environmentally-friendly and safe way of removing the seagulls without harm. “The presence of eagles creates an atmosphere whereby the gulls think these raptors live at the MCG and will be deterred from returning,” she said.

So long seagulls, you will be missed. Like the ardent fans, you took blows, you got shooed away, but you would still fly miles to catch cricket.

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First published on: 21-03-2015 at 04:04:03 am
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