Sunday 18 August 2019

Bird's Eye View: Staring at seagulls could stop them from stealing your chips


Aggressive: A Seagull investigates a discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Aggressive: A Seagull investigates a discarded paper bag in Dublin's St Stephens Green. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Pesky predator: Seagulls have a reputation for swiping chips. Photo: REUTERS

Nina Massey

Worried about how to protect your seaside chips from pesky seagulls? Scientists believe the answer lies in an old-fashioned stare down.

University of Exeter researchers put a bag of chips on the ground and tested how long it took herring gulls to approach when someone was watching them.

They compared this to how long it took when the person looked away.

On average the gulls took 21 seconds longer to approach the food while they were being stared at.

The researchers attempted to test 74 gulls, but most flew away or would not approach.

Only 27 approached the food, and 19 completed both the "looking at" and "looking away" tests. The findings focus on these 19 gulls.

Lead author Madeleine Goumas, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter's Penryn Campus, said: "Gulls are often seen as aggressive and willing to take food from humans, so it was interesting to find that most wouldn't even come near during our tests.

"Of those that did approach, most took longer when they were being watched.

"Some wouldn't even touch the food at all, although others didn't seem to notice that a human was staring at them."

She added that the team did not look at why individual birds were so different, but it may have been because some might have had positive experiences of being fed by humans.

"But it seems that a couple of very bold gulls might ruin the reputation of the rest," she said.

Irish Independent

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