CHICAGO — There are several reasons Wrigley Field sometimes looks like a scene from "The Birds."
Gulls in search of food and on their way home to Lake Michigan frequent the North Side ballpark from time to time.
The birds are not seagulls — in fact, there is no such thing as a seagull — but actually ring-billed gulls, an inland gull uncommon on ocean coasts, according to Doug Stotz, a senior conservation ecologist at the Field Museum.
"The leftover hotdogs, Cracker Jacks, peanuts and so forth are perfect junk food for gulls," Stotz said. "Gulls have a great ability to find and take advantage of ephemeral food supplies."
Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals plays the outfield while a gull flies by during the eighth inning on Saturday at Wrigley Field. [Getty Images]
As in years past, droves of gulls have appeared occasionally this season at Wrigley. They are known to munch on discarded food in the bleachers or zip around the outfield. Many times, they walk around on the spacious outfield grass. A bird zeroed in, but didn't not fly into Nationals star outfielder Bryce Harper as he attempted to make a catch Saturday.
Stotz compared the gulls' behavior at Wrigley to their feeding frenzies at garbage dumps.
"Gulls feed regularly at active landfills, and people have noticed that they don't show up on weekends when landfills are quiet," Stotz said. "They arrive during the week when food is being added to the landfill and moved around."
Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the best way to keep birds out of the park is to keep fans in the bleachers.
"The best remedy is exciting games that keep the fans in the ballpark and cleaning up the ballpark well as soon as we can after the game," Green said. "The birds are drawn here by the food and refuse. They are opportunistic feeders so when a portion of the stands begin to clear out, the birds will seek food."
The prime time for feeding gulls at Wrigley is between 4-6 p.m., which is when the birds are heading back toward Lake Michigan for the night, and usually around the end of afternoon Cubs games. Usually, one gull comes in to check out the food offerings at Wrigley, and, if there is plenty available, other gulls quickly follow.
"This is the time period when gulls are flying to the lakefront to spend the night roosting on beaches, docks and breakwaters after a hard day of visiting landfills or mall parking lots looking for food," Stotz said. "So if they see activity at Wrigley, they come check it out. When one gull finds a food source, pretty quickly others follow, so soon you have a flock of gulls."
Gulls fight over food in the outfield at Wrigley Field. [Getty Images]
And while it's obvious why they end up in the stands, where food scraps abound, why do they head to the field, where there isn't as much to munch on?
"The field is the obvious place to hang out, lots of open ground, little disturbance," Stotz said.
The Cubs have in the past tried to get rid of the birds using air cannons and a chemical repellent, with little luck. A club official told the Sun-Times a few years back that there are just "certain things you kind of have to live with."
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