At some point, a group of gulls discovered that the ballpark at game time is a heck of a place to grab a free meal. Fans toss aside half-eaten hot dogs, popcorn pieces and peanut shells, and the gulls swoop in.
"The birds aren't there unless there's a game," said Harvey Webster, director of the wildlife resource center at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "They sit down on the field waiting for opportunities to go into the stands and get some of the wasted food."
With hundreds of birds flying over the field and often relaxing in the outfield grass, one of them was bound to come into play at some point. Sure enough, that's just what happened Thursday night, when Shin-Soo Choo's game-winning single off the Royals' Kyle Farnsworth struck a bird on a bounce, putting the gulls in the national spotlight.
The Indians were happy the bird worked for them in that situation, but they're not all that enamored with the excessive numbers of gulls inhabiting their home. They have enlisted the help of the Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildlife Research Center and the Ohio Division of Wildlife to find a solution to the problem. The Indians have also talked to officials at Hopkins International and Burke Lakefront airports, as they deal with birds as a safety issue on a regular basis.
The first potential solution was employed for Friday night's game against the Cardinals, as the Indians set off fireworks at every half-inning interval to try to scare the birds away.
"Fireworks are probably effective," Webster said.
If nothing else, the Indians now have a new reason to swing for the fences at home.
Other potential solutions being discussed include the use of a live eagle to swoop in and scare the gulls off. But that's an idea in its infancy.
The club released an official statement regarding the gulls Friday.
"[The] main reason for this issue has been the increase of nesting pairs in Cleveland's 'Flats' on flat-top roof buildings," vice president of public relations Bob DiBiasio said in the release. "Gulls are riding the wind currents up the valley walls to the ballpark in search for food scraps to feed their young. The Indians are continuing to research ways to control this issue under the guidance of gulls being federally protected."
First baseman Ryan Garko called the gull problem "embarrassing" after Thursday's win. And manager Eric Wedge admitted the issue has become a bit distracting.
"It's been a little too constant," Wedge said. "I don't see any plus to it. I'm sure it will be taken care of, sooner or later."
The gulls have never been a problem in past seasons. But through learned behavior, flocks of them have discovered a junk food paradise at the ballpark.
"Thirty years ago, we had no gulls nesting [in the city] and some along the lakefront all summer long, but not in huge numbers," Webster said. "There seems to have been an adaptive shift. Some are nesting in the city, some on slag piles, some on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Now, we have literally thousands and thousands of breeding pairs of gulls, so the population has been growing rapidly over the last 10 years. As the pool increases, they're all looking for feeding opportunities."
What's worse, they don't even pay to get in.