We spoke to Gary: Sussex’s falcon-wielding seagull hunter

Your sandwiches have never been safer

On Friday, I ran into a Gary, a falconer who told me about the work he does here at Sussex in deterring the squawking seagulls from the campus. When he and his Harris Hawk falcon George come in, the gulls know and the campus settles down to the low mumbling of students before the shrill cries of the seagulls invade the site once again.

Gary came to this job completely by accident. Starting off as an engineer for British Airways at Gatwick, he noticed they had a pigeon problem. Seeing as he owned a hawk, he brought it in to clear out the pigeons and his work developed from there.

From then on, Gary started rescuing peregrine falcons and, having been a falcon enthusiast his whole life, it came naturally to him. Today, he owns 12 peregrines and four hawks, with his oldest bird being an 18-year-old peregrine. Some of them had been shot or injured and are unable go out and hunt, but most are abandoned. Usually, he finds them in poor condition so he fixes them up and lets them go.

“These birds can be very nasty at times”, Gary told me, “yet they show compassion to their owner who has saved them from birth.”

When I met Gary, he was with his Harris Hawk, George. George has been Gary’s pride and joy since receiving him at eight weeks of age, George has a straight back talon, making him unable to hunt, so needs to be cared for by his owner.

George and Gary were first called in following an incident regarding seagulls attacking students. Now, he comes in once a fortnight but from next month, it’ll be from once a week up to even three days a week.

Although being a falconer is not in everyone’s list of ambitions, Gary has used his love of birds – especially peregrines – to help the species and our precious lunches. Everyone dreams of living a life where their passion is also their job, and Gary has done exactly that.

Not only is Gary helping getting rid of these pesky birds who shit everywhere, but he’s also helping the Sussex Peregrine Group who preserve these birds’ livelihood – and all this fuelled with a passion for the species.

So next time you look up and see a flock of seagulls flapping away, you’ll know that George is on the loose, rescuing your lunches from the unwanted thieves of campus.