The city of Tampa is losing its battle against seagull poop at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park

The birds have taken special aim at public boat slips, and not even a bobblehead owl can deter them.
Published April 4
Updated April 4

TAMPA — The seagulls keep pooping all over the boat slips at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. And city employees have no idea how to make them stop.

They tried scaring them with an 18-inch plastic bobble head owl, but its head went missing.

“The birds might have taken it,’’ said Shana Logan, team supervisor at Tampa River Center, the downtown park’s event space and neighbor to the pooped-upon boat slips.

They tried putting garden hoses coiled to look like snakes on the docks. That worked until it didn’t. Reflective streamers were a flop. A repellent spray gave city employees headaches.

The problem peaks every day around noon, when as many as 100 birds flock and splatter poop on the park’s five boat slips for non-motorized vessels. The mess is so extensive the city has to power-wash the slips twice a day.

“We are open to any other options,” said site supervisor Mike Moseley. “No matter how creative, we’ll try it.”

How creative?

These days, pre-recorded bird distress calls, along with the screaming sounds of predator birds like something out of a Jurassic Park movie, are being broadcast from the 23-acre park along the Hillsborough River near Interstate 275. The Bird-X sonic repellent system can be heard along the city's winding Riverwalk. The company that makes the system says the calls should be audible up to six acres away.

At a cost of around $600 each, the city installed two of the four-speaker systems: one on the River Center and one on a public restroom facility nearby. All of the speakers face the slips.

The company wasn’t kidding about the volume. Park-goers using the bathroom have admitted to jumping in fear, worried that a bird was inside with them.

Similar systems are used at Raymond James Stadium, the IKEA near Ybor City and the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel, Logan said. Officials with those facilities did not respond to requests for comment about their effectiveness.

Given that the park remains stubbornly overrun with seagulls, is the sonic weapon proving to be a dud?

“If we didn’t use it we would have more,” Logan said.

A Times reporter saw a few seagulls scatter each time the speakers broadcast the bird noises. But they were quickly replaced.

“Some are smarter than others,” said Moseley, the site manager. “We can’t trick them all.”

Employees say the seagulls don’t seem to be bothering people who picnic in the park. That may be because the sonic bird repellent on the bathrooms is so close to the pavilions.

The seagulls also stay away from the boat slips for motorized vessels.

“I am guessing the gulls like the openness of the non-motorized docks,” said Heather Wolf-Erickson, the city’s special facilities manager.

And when rowing teams use the non-motorized slips, the seagulls usually scatter.

Which leads to a curious question about the bird’s excretory habits: Are they trying to make a statement?

“The Form Of Wander” is an abstract and much-commented-upon sculpture installed in the park when it opened to much acclaim last year.

Even though the large, green piece stands next to the boat slips, the birds leave it alone.

Do they avoid the sculpture because they hate it? Or do they like it so much they refuse to dirty it?

“They definitely respect it,” joked Brooklyn artist Marc Fornes, who created the sculpture.

Actually, Fornes said, there is a legitimate reason for the birds’ actions.

To make it difficult for roosting, the sculpture was designed with no sharply defined edges.

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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