It’s not an April Fools’ Day joke: Venice is giving tourists water pistols to ward off seagulls

Apr 1, 2022

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You might be given a water gun to fend off hungry birds the next time you travel to Italy. And no, this isn’t an April Fools’ Day joke.

In recent years, the city of Venice has responded rather ingeniously to some of its most modern threats, ranging from a state-of-the-art £5 billion flood defense system (about $6.55 billion) to combat rising water levels to a 5 euro (a little over $5) tourist entry charge helping to offset overtourism — a levy that comes into force following an outright ban on cruise ships docking in the city center.

But recently, the Venetian hospitality industry has been responding to an entirely different type of danger: the humble seagull, which has become so brazen in taking food from visitors that hotels have now begun fighting back by arming guests with water pistols.

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In addition to serving finger food under napkins to fool the birds, a handful of upmarket hotels in Venice are now placing water guns on tables so guests can scare off the birds. Diners are urged to aim the guns at any winged intruders when they find their food threatened.

A seagull with an apple in its mouth. (Photo by Joe Ellison/The Points Guy)

Speaking about what caused the armament, Enrico Mazzocco, manager of the Monaco & Grand Canal hotel, told The Times it came down to an incident involving a pastry. “We decided to act after a customer lifted a croissant to his mouth and a lurking seagull dived and snatched it from his hand,” Mazzocco said.

Other premium hotels around St. Mark’s Square and San Marco soon adopted the tactic, eventually introducing bright orange guns after the color was found to be of a particular dislike to the birds.

It’s been successful by all accounts, too. Just the sight of the gun has reportedly been enough to drive seagulls away from visitors, Paolo Lorenzoni, director of The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, explained to the ASNA news agency.

“As soon as they see the pistols,” he said, “they fly away. You don’t even need to use them, you just need to keep them on the table.”

What may sound like a bit of jaunty PR for hotels is actually more serious than you might imagine.

As the birds have become an increasing nuisance around lagoon-based landmarks, hotels and restaurants have suffered as a result. Tourists have been put off from dining outside, and waiters have frankly had to deal with more than they should, costing these establishments money and time.

Related: These are the best times to visit Italy, now restrictions are easing

This has been no more apparent than inside the eternally busy St. Mark’s Square, which is so often a magnet for anti-social gulls on the hunt for a warm meal and a landmark where locals have long debated what to do about the birds.

Tourists in Venice. (Photo by Massimiliano Clari/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Indeed, where eradicating French Fry thievery is concerned, all options are on the table.

The Venetian Hoteliers Association, which backs the water pistol scheme, has also discussed other strategies to scare off seagulls, including special electrostatic pulses and acoustic systems,  and possibly even falcons. (Seriously, this isn’t an April Fools’ Day joke.)

“We could introduce a falcon-sharing system between hotels with one falconer sending a falcon to cover different terraces,” said Claudio Scarpa, president of the association.

Needless to say, we’re looking forward to the inevitable battle between laser-donning hawks and falcons in the next few decades.

Featured photo by JaCZhou 2015/Getty Images.

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