As It Happens

European Gull Screeching Championship has folks squawking 'the sound of the sea'

A Belgian pub hosted the event to celebrate people who can walk the walk and squawk the squawk.

Judges scored competitors on their screeches, squawks and arm flapping performances

A seagull sits on a boat as people gather around the harbour at low tide in St Ives on June 27, 2018, in Cornwall, England. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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Transcript

On Sunday, aspiring seagull imitators from across Europe flocked to a pub in the coastal village of Adinkerke, Belgium, to compete in the first ever European Gull Screeching Championship.

The winners — chosen for their realistic gull screeches and impeccable arm flapping — were Reggy Laatsch from Amsterdam and Bregje Iding from Hasselt, Belgium. 

Gull researcher Jan Seys, who judged the competition, spoke with As it Happens guest host Megan Williams about the event. Here is part of their conversation.

Why would anyone want to go to a Belgium bar on a weekend and listen to people screech like gulls?

Well, big fun of course.

And if you say "coast" and "sea," of course the first animal you think about — the first sounds you think about — is the seagull. The seagull screeches the sound of the sea. 

So what was the point of this championship? 

Well, actually it all started a few years ago when ...  the coastal province of West Flanders here in Belgium, involved in nuisance created by seagulls, realized that there was need to counterbalance that a little bit.

Many people were complaining about seagulls opening trash bags, the bird droppings, and even seagulls stealing ice creams and sandwiches on the sea dikes. 

And there was a feeling like we should make sure that it's not becoming too negative, and that we give the seagull a more friendly and likeable image, at least.

Seagulls fly over the ice of a frozen canal on a cold winter day in Brussels. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

So it was a way to kind of get people to re-envision the seagull?

Exactly. And it worked very well, because if there is one thing people know about the seagull, at least, is that it makes noise. 

Now you were judging this competition. So tell us what you were looking for as people stepped up to the mic.

Well, there were two things. The most important part deals with, of course, imitating the sounds as good as possible — as natural as possible.

Most people imitated the herring gull, which is the most abundant species, and also the one ... that creates most of the nuisance.  It really has a very rich repertoire of calls, very often accompanied by different postures the gull can take.

So we looked at, for 15 points of the 20 points ... how well they performed the imitation. And the other five points dealt with the performance, how they were flapping their arms and imitating a gull. Or some were really dressed up as a gull. Some were wearing seagull-style beaks on top of their heads. Big fun.

There was a microphone — actually, it was a banana — dangling from the ceiling. So that was all there in the pub.

Why the choice of a banana? Because it's edible for a seagull?

I have no idea. I think a seagull will eat everything that is edible, so....

Now I live in Rome, Italy, which is a city not far from the seaside. And it has a major garbage pickup crisis. So I wake up every morning at about four o'clock in the morning to the sound of gulls — which, to me, sounds like howling cats. The charms of their cries have eluded me so far. What am I missing? How can you convince me to to embrace the seagull cry?

Yeah, OK. You live near a place like that. Maybe that's different.

I'm not living so close to a dumpsite, but ... I don't even notice very often when I'm here, for instance, in Ostend — where I work along the coastline — we have these kind of calls throughout the day.

And I don't bother about that, it's just part of the environment. Maybe we have forgotten to appreciate the environment.

And so, maybe just open your mind.

Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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