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Rogues’ Gullery: Meet the 12 most notorious seagulls in north-east history

a graphic of seagull heads on human bodies in a police line up
Picture by Clarke Cooper/DCT Media

Seagulls are as much a part of north-east culture as butteries, granite and Annie Lennox – but some notorious birds have left more of a mark than others.

Among the flocks of gulls that glide over our heads – or gather in menacing gangs on city pavements – are individuals who have done some truly deplorable things.

Sitting outside your window right now could be a bird that went viral for waddling into a supermarket and nicking a bag of Doritos.

Or the one that grabbed half of my burrito away as I walked down Broad Street a couple of years ago.

Is there any way of knowing which is which? No. The thing about gulls is they’re quite difficult to tell apart.

But regardless, we’ve taken the time to pull together a rogues’ gullery of the most infamous ‘flying rats’ to have ever taken to skies around the north and north-east. They’re 12 angry gulls. The dirty dozen.

You never know, you may just recognise one from your walk to work.

Do you have a favourite? Have we missed any out? Let us know in the comments at the bottom of this article.

12. Trapped in a takeaway box

A seagull with its head trapped in a takeaway food box
A seagull with its head trapped in a takeaway box. Picture from Gail Sangster/Mearns Leader

We kick things off with a rather unfortunate story from seven years ago.

This picture went wild on social media in 2015, largely from people soaking in schadenfreude from a clear example of a greedy seagull that ended up in a makeshift pillory for its sin of stealing food.

But of course, it’s not an ideal situation for a gull to be in, and although it could apparently still fly with the takeaway box on its head, some Facebook users pointed out it would undoubtedly be in some distress.

We at the Press and Journal hope it managed to quickly wriggle free without too much hassle.

11. Asda cafe seagull break-in

A seagull in Asda cafe
A seagull in Asda cafe. Bridge of Dee, Aberdeen.

‘Slow news day’ is a phrase that winds up most journalists when it appears in the social media comments of their story.

Almost all news matters to somebody somewhere, and small stories play just as important a role in the full scope of a local newspaper as big ones.

Having said that, we think it’s pretty clear that this story about a seagull getting into the Bridge of Dee Asda cafe was written to fill a stubborn space in the paper.

However, everyone involved has moved on to bigger and better things since 2014. Reporter Adele Merson is now our political editor. The seagull, number 11 on our list.

10. The ‘arrogant’ sandwich stealer

a seagull stealing food from a womanThere are a few unanswered questions about this incident, but the main one is: why was news photographer Amanda Gordon able to capture Bucksburn mum-of-two Wendy Morrison’s tuna sandwich being snatched out of her hand in such detail?

Something tells me it was less spontaneous than the article suggests. But the full story is lost to time, with the sequence of pictures above taken in July 2007.

At the time, Wendy said: “The seagull just swooped down from behind me. It hit my head, grabbed the best part of my sandwich out of my hand and bit my finger.

“It gave it a fair nip, not enough for bloodshed though.

“I just sat in shock looking at it. It was the height of arrogance.”

9. Wick Spoons evacuation

Gala Day 2016 in Wick, Highlands. A time for families, summer joy, and civic pride in the town with the world’s shortest street.

Crowds are gathering in the Alexander Bain Wetherspoons, named after the inventor of the fax machine – it might be the pub’s busiest day of the entire year.

But within seconds, screaming children and their parents are pushing past each other to escape to the relative safety of Market Place outside.

The jovial atmosphere has turned sour because of one creature. It’s grey and white, with an ice-pick-sharp beak and lifeless eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.

P&J reporter Ben Hendry was on hand to capture the madness.

8. Elgin Asda food thief

The second of several seagulls stealing food on our list, this larcenous character featured in a short video posted on Facebook by Ashley Aitken four years ago.

As a woman innocently attempts to move shopping from her trolley to her car outside the Asda in Elgin, a gull dives down to pinch a packet of bacon.

Because of this incident and others, shoppers at the store were advised to bury their most appealing snacks at the bottom of the trolley to make them as difficult to steal as possible.

As my colleague Gregor Aiken notes in the original story, “it’s unknown if the bacon was returned”.

7. Rijeka renegade

Apocalyptic scenes accompanied Aberdeen’s clash with Croatian side Rijeka in the 2019 Europa League – and not just because the Dons lost 4-0 on aggregate.

At the beginning of the second half at Pittodrie, birds circled and swooped on the pitch as helpless players ducked to dodge the Hitchcockian nightmare.

But we wanted to put the spotlight on one in particular: a rattled flapper which somehow found its way into the stadium’s press box.

In his story for us, football reporter Paul Third wrote: “John Greechan of the Scottish Daily Mail emerged as the hero in everyone’s time of need, draping a jacket over the bird before it was sent free back into the Pittodrie skyline.”

6. School pupil scourge

Peterhead Academy
Peterhead Academy. Picture by Kenny Elrick

The only thing worse than an audacious gull that causes a terrible mess is an audacious gull that causes a terrible mess – and then makes you take the blame.

Luckily for her students, then-newly installed Peterhead Academy headteacher Shona Sellers was too smart to be fooled by the birds in 2014.

She reported watching a seagull plucking a piece of litter out of a bin outside the school, just 20 minutes after she had put it in there herself.

Mrs Sellers said: “Any passing member of the public would have thought this rubbish would have been dropped by the pupils, which sheds a poor light on the school.”

5. Kath’s chip-stealing seagull

a seagull stealing food from a plate at the seaside
Picture by Kath Flannery

Taking pictures to illustrate food reviews is bread and butter for our talented group of photographers, and they rarely end up fearing for their life while on those assignments.

But when Kath Flannery was sent to get some photos of the food at The Pier on Aberdeen beachfront for an article in Society magazine, a brazen gull swooped down to grab five – count them, five – chips from her fancy scampi supper.

Ever the professional, Kath’s first instinct was to get a quick snap with her camera.

When I asked for her memories of the moment, she told me: “I knew it was risky but thought I’d give it a go, thought I’d get more than one shot though…”

4. Crown Street Crim

In the mid-2010s, newsagent Zaman Iqbal was terrorised by a peanut-loving seagull who would swagger into his shop to steal food.

It didn’t happen just once. Mr Iqbal released a series of videos showing the bird repeatedly wandering the aisles of 24 Hours Sweet News Store on Crown Street before being chased out the door.

Our story was published in September 2015, and in June 2016 the BBC published another with a video of the winged shoplifter picking up and then discarding a packet of barbecue treats.

3. Belmont Bandit

These days, the folk behind the counter at the Belmont Filmhouse on Aberdeen’s Belmont Street are behind a Covid-safe window.

I’m sure the ticket sellers in this video from 2015 wished they had similar levels of protection.

CCTV footage shows a herring gull strolling into the cinema lobby and stopping in front of the desk, before inexplicably launching itself directly at the faces of those working behind it.

What was the feathered fiend wanting to see? The Angry Birds Movie? Look Who’s Squawking? The Lord of the Wings? Put your better suggestions in the comments.

2. Gus the Gull

a seagull stealing crisps from a Co-Op store
Gull stealing a sandwich from the Co-op on Union Street

It’s extraordinary to think this character could appear and make such an impact in so little time.

Gus first entered the public eye in March last year, when he was filmed waiting outside the Co-op on Union Street until a customer exited the automatic doors.

He then darted inside and nabbed a packet of Walkers ready salted crisps, before taking them back outside and jabbing them with his beak until he could get the snacks inside.

Then, two months later, an even more ballsy raid: Gus rushes inside and picks out a sandwich. Clearly bored of the meal deal snack, he wanted to go straight for a main.

Veberley Macdonald’s video shows the gull trying to pick open the packet while inside the store and then, in an early sign of how much he has captured the hearts of Aberdeen, a passer-by stamps outside the sliding doors purely to let him out.

1. Sam the Seagull

a seagull stealing doritos from a shop
Sam the Seagull at the height of his fame in 2007.

Who else but the OG of seagulls stealing food could have taken the top spot?

Sam the seagull turned into a bona fide global phenomenon after a video of him skipping into RS McColl on the Castlegate to steal Doritos went viral on the internet, with a clip of the escapade on BBC News gathering more than 2.4 million Youtube hits.

This was back in 2007, when the concept of going viral was still in its infancy, and Sam’s popularity turned him into a bit of an ambassador for the city – and the snack.

Yes, there were reports that Walkers, the makers of Doritos, were considering using the seagull to promote their product. Sadly, we couldn’t find any evidence that the idea went beyond the marketing boardroom.

The company did, however, donate packets of the tangy cheese snacks to the newsagent to ensure Sam had a reliable supply.

A Tennents pump at the Butchers Arms, Aberdeen. Picture by Ben Hendry

So iconic is Sam for Aberdeen, he was immortalised by Tennents on their localised pub pump alongside the King’s College chapel tower and the statue of Queen Victoria at Queen’s Cross.

And how does he seal his place at the top of this list? The feathered philanthropist would peck the bag wide open so his gull mates could share in the spoils. Classy.