Marco Polo Airport's runway borders the Venice lagoon.

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CNN  — 

Venice may be known as La Serenissima, but for those who have encountered her resident seagulls, the experience can be anything but serene.

The gulls are infamous for stealing food from anyone naïve enough to be eating outside, swooping down onto café terraces, breaking crockery, grabbing sandwiches out of walkers’ hands, and happily biting any fingers that get in the way.

Now, the winged criminals have gone one stop further, causing an hour-long shutdown and two hours of chaos at the city’s airport.

Venice Marco Polo Airport, located north of the city, with a runway adjacent to the lagoon, is the fifth busiest airport in Italy, and the largest in the north of the country outside the Milan area.

But on Friday morning, things ground to a halt when a flock of gulls congregated at the end of the runway.

Flights were grounded between 9.54 a.m. and 10.45 a.m., a spokesperson for the airport confirmed to CNN. Twenty incoming flights were diverted to other airports in northern Italy: Treviso, Verona, Trieste and Milan.

While Treviso is an easy 30-minute bus ride away, those diverted to Trieste and Milan would have faced journeys of two to three hours to get to Venice.

As the airlines’ “big birds” were diverting to gull-less airports, staff from SAVE, the airport management company, were enacting their standard anti-seagull routine.

Venice airport employs a resident falcon, who was dispatched by a falconer to disperse the 200-odd birds. “Fauna-friendly acoustic deterrents” were also used, according to a statement by the airport.

Once the falcon completed its job and the gulls had moved on, the airport returned to normal operations at 11.20 a.m.

Venice isn’t the only airport in the area to have a resident falconer. Treviso, around 14 miles inland from the lagoon as the gull flies, also uses one. Verona, which is about 60 miles inland, is free from marauding gulls.

Seagulls are notorious for their thieving in Venice.

Flocks of birds around airports can be dangerous for airplanes.

“Bird strikes,” as they’re known, can cause engine failure and even crashes. The fatal crashes of Eastern Air Lines flight 375 in 1960, taking off from Boston, and Ethiopian Airlines flight 604, landing at Addis Ababa in 1988, were both down to bird strikes.

Even Ryanair, the European airline with the best safety record, has had a run-in with birds. In 2008, a flight from Frankfurt to Rome hit a flock of starlings on approach to Ciampino airport. Both engines stalled, and while the plane landed safely, two crew and eight passengers were taken to hospital. The eight-month-old Boeing 737 was written off as a result.

Perhaps the most famous bird strike incident was the 2009 US Airways “miracle on the Hudson” flight from New York’s LaGuardia to Charlotte, captained by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. The plane hit a flock of Canada geese while taking off, and the crew were forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.