Seagulls are more likely to go after food humans have touched

Feb 26, 2020, 6:44 AM
FILE -- ST IVES, ENGLAND - JULY 28: A seagull watches as people eat takeaway food on the seafront at St Ives on July 28, 2015 in Cornwall, England. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Seagulls prefer to eat food that humans have already touched, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK showed herring gulls two identical pieces of food, and noticed the birds were more likely to eat the one that they had seen a human holding.

This suggests that gulls’ decisions on what to eat are informed by human actions.

Seagulls have become a pest in some seaside towns, with regular stories in the media about aggressive birds swooping down and stealing peoples’ food.

Study lead author Madeleine Goumas, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, explained that little is known about gulls’ behavior even though they are a common sight.

“We wanted to find out if gulls are simply attracted by the sight of food, or if people’s actions can draw gulls’ attention towards an item,” said Goumas.

“Our study shows that cues from humans may play an important part in the way gulls find food, and could partly explain why gulls have been successful in colonizing urban areas.”

During the study researchers approached individual gulls and put two buckets containing wrapped flapjacks in front of them.

The researchers picked up the flapjack from one bucket and handled it for 20 seconds before putting it back down. The other flapjacks were left untouched.

Of the 38 gulls tested, 24 pecked at one of the snacks. Nineteen of these (79%) picked the one that had been touched by the researcher.

Researchers repeated the exercise with sponges to test the effect on non-food items, but their preference for the handled sponge did not exceed chance levels.

This suggests that handling by humans draws gulls attention to food in particular.

“Our findings suggest that gulls are more likely to approach food that they have seen people drop or put down, so they may associate areas where people are eating with an easy meal,” said senior author Laura Kelley.

“This highlights the importance of disposing of food waste properly, as inadvertently feeding gulls reinforces these associations.”

Kelley also provides a possible explanation for growing gull populations in urban areas.

“Herring gulls are quite adaptable and are likely to be moving into urban areas because of the resources available,” she said.

These resources mean that competition among gulls is lower in towns and cities, meaning they may be able to support larger populations than rural coastal areas, according to Kelley.

The full paper, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, follows previous research from the University of Exeter which shows that staring at gulls discourages them from stealing your food.

™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

Great Salt Lake State Park and Marina...
Mark Jones

How much will it take to save the Great Salt Lake?

A bipartisan bill was passed in the U.S. Senate aimed at giving funding toward the study of The Great Salt Lake and other saline lakes in the west.
1 day ago
goblin mode...
Christian Edwards, CNN

‘Goblin mode’ chosen as Oxford word of the year for 2022

According to OUP, the term refers to a behavior which is "self-indulgent, lazy, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations."
1 day ago
free national park...
Aimee Cobabe

Lawsuit against Arches National Park after incident resulting in the death of a woman

A trial is underway after a woman was decapitated at Arches National Park. Her family alleges the park was negligent in not securing a gate that killed her.
1 day ago
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19:  The U.S. Capitol is shown as a looming government shutdown threatens ...
Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly, CNN

Defense bill likely to include end to military Covid vaccine mandate, source says

A massive bill setting defense policy is likely to end the military Covid vaccine mandate, a source familiar with the negotiations tells CNN.
1 day ago
kindergarten gap year...
Tom Haraldsen

Checking in on the status of full-day kindergarten in Utah

Policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children reveals whether full-day kindergarten could be in the cards for next year.
1 day ago
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 03:  Actress Kirstie Alley attends the "Kirstie" premiere party at Harlow o...
Dan Heching, Amy Simonson and Taylor Romine, CNN

Kirstie Alley, ‘Cheers’ and ‘Veronica’s Closet’ star, dead at 71

Actress Kirstie Alley has died after a brief battle with cancer, her children announced on social media.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Seagulls are more likely to go after food humans have touched