BENTON TOWNSHIP — Gulls nesting on the roof of The Orchards Mall in Benton Township will soon be a thing of the past, promises mall General Manager Ed Moore.

He said the previous mall manager didn’t do much to discourage the birds from nesting on the roof, so when he took over in March 2018 there were thousands of them to contend with.

“It was really bad last year,” he said. “Some of our roof is gravel, and seagulls like gravel.”

But this year, Moore said was frequently on the roof this spring to discourage them from laying eggs. 

“We’re down to a few hundred this year,” he said. “I’ve been working diligently.”

But there are still too many, as any mall visitor can see – and sometimes smell.

About a month ago, Moore put 16 metal spinners on the roof to scare away the birds. And two weeks ago, he said he installed 10 solar-powered ultrasonic bird repellers.

“They really hate them,” he said.

Some of the birds are still hanging around the edges of the roof this week, but most are now on the ground near the former Carson’s and Entrance 3 of the mall.

“Until the babies have learned to fly, they won’t leave,” he said.

Incidentally, the problem birds are not “seagulls” – a common misnomer. There is no such formal species, only various types of gulls.

Don’t feed the birds

Another thing apparently egging the birds on is that some folks make it a point to come to the mall to feed them.

“They come up here with five to six loaves of bread,” he said. “I get it. But I’m trying to get (the birds) away from here.”

Moore would like people to stop feeding the gulls so they look for a new home.

That’s also what’s best for the birds, said Carolyn Sundquist, a naturalist at Sarett Nature Center.

“Bread is not a good food for birds – any kind of bird,” she said. 

Plus, Sundquist said people feeding birds from their hands teaches them that humans are a source of food.

“Bird feeders are one thing,” she said. “But it’s not good for gulls to associate people with food. They can even attack people sometimes. I always tell people ... not to feed birds from their hands.” 

When shown a photo of the birds, Sundquist identified the mall birds as ring-billed gulls. The birds that people commonly call “seagulls” are actually seabirds that are members of the family Laridae, with more than 30 varieties.

Sundquist said gulls are social birds that congregate in open spaces and eat a wide variety of food, including fish, insects, berries, worms, grain and food from people.

Sundquist called the mall flock the first known nesting colony of ring-billed gulls in Berrien County.

Federally protected

Moore said he is limited as to what he can do to get rid of the gulls because they are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. 

Lt. Gerald Thayer from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said people found guilty of killing a protected bird can receive up to five days in jail and be fined between $100 and $1,000. In addition, he said their hunting privileges would be suspended for three years. If the case is handled in federal court, he said the penalties could be different.

Even removing gull eggs from nests would require a federal permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sundquist said there are only four species of birds that are not protected in Michigan – European starlings, house sparrows, rock pigeons and mute swans. They aren’t protected because they aren’t native to the state, she said.

Moore said he doesn’t hate the gulls – he just wants them to go away so he can properly clean the property and help bring it back to life.

“I’m definitely an animal advocate,” he said. “Even though they’re annoying, I don’t want to see them hurt.”

Still open for business

Moore said he’s working with the mall’s new owner, Kumar, to revive the mall, which has taken two huge hits recently with the loss of Carson’s in 2018, and then J.C. Penney, which closed last week. Moore said getting rid of the gulls is necessary to aid a revival. 

He also pointed out that the new owner is in the process of having new air conditioners installed. However, the installer said he can’t do it until the gulls are off the roof.

Workers were also busy power washing the building earlier this week, but it won’t stay clean with hundreds of birds living there.

Other work is also being done. Moore said workers have filled most of the bigger potholes, including the ones at the mall’s Pipestone Road entrance, which has been reopened.

“We’re still here,” he said. “I always tell people when they call on the phone to come shop at home again.”

Many of the stores at the mall are family businesses.

“These people in here are local people and they believe in the power that the mall will come back,” he said.

Moore also pointed out that the mall, opened in 1979, has historical significance in the area. Plus there is the practical benefit of having such a large indoor space. Moore said there are about seven people who walk the mall almost every day, including one man who said he’s been walking there since 1982. In the winter, Moore said the number of mall walkers increases to about 40 people a day.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege