You are enjoying your day at the beach and you have eaten as many crackers as you can, and all of a sudden seagull comes in your face. Sometimes they come with a group of their friends to share in the bounty. Don’t you think something is about these birds who are often looking for a human handout?
At the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, researchers were curious to know whether seagulls are drawn solely to the food or if they are watching what humans are doing with it. Lead researcher, Madeleine Goumas said, “Even though seagulls are very often seen in many towns, little is known about urban seagull’s behavior. We wanted to know whether seagulls are simply attracted to the food, or if people’s actions draw the attention of seagull toward any food item.”
Madeleine approached the birds that were resting and carried two plastic-wrapped flapjacks in black buckets. Goumas took both food items out of the black bucket and placed them on the ground. Then she would pick up one of the flapjacks and hold it for 20 seconds, placing it near her face as if she was eating it. After this, Madeleine would put down both on the ground at an equal distance apart and walk away.
Exactly 38 seagulls were tested, and a few ignored her completely. But 24 gulls looked at the food, and 19 of them chose the food that she held first. Madeleine and her team then repeated the experiment using blue sponges that were split into the same size and shape as the flapjacks. Goumas and her team used different locations for the experiments so that they could be quickly sure that the gulls would be various and had not already been tested before.
This time, out of 23 seagulls that pecked at the sponges, 15 opted for the one that had not been handled. Goumas and her team speculate that gulls are particularly drawn to food items that have been processed by humans. Researchers believe that they may have learned that items covered in plastic wrapping often tend to be related to food items.
Why does it matter?
The researchers think that many species are impacted negatively by urbanization, and it results in their habitats dwindling. They end up losing food sources. But seagulls have managed to find a way to thrive, living on scavenged meals discarded by humans.
The researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK say that it is doubtful that seagulls are the only wild animals to use behavioral cues of humans in urban areas. As urbanization will increase, more wild animals will come into contact with people and anthropogenic items.”
Seagulls will continue to flock to areas where they know they would get food for free. Senior author Dr. Laura Kelley says, “our findings show that seagulls are more likely to approach food that they have seen people drop out or discarding. So they may associate areas where humans are eating with an easy meal.”