If you’ve ever been to a seaside resort, you’ve undoubtedly had a seagull eyeing your food, and in some cases, actually making an attempt for your meal. As it turns out, seagulls prefer food that have been handled by humans.
Scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK made this discovery when researcher, Madeleine Goumas, showed a colony of 38 herring gulls two identical pieces of flapjacks wrapped in plastic wrapping. Goumas then handled one of the flapjacks for a total of 20 seconds before placing it down besides the untouched flapjack and walked away. While a few of the seagulls ignored her, out of the 24 gulls that picked up a flapjack, 19 chose the one Goumas had handled.
According to senior author Laura Kelley, “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.”
Researchers then repeated the experiment, but substituted the flapjacks for blue sponges that shared the same shape and size as the flapjacks. Out of the 23 seagulls that pecked at a sponge, only eight chose to peck at the one she had handled, which is not statistically different from what we would expect by chance.
Goumas suggests that the different results may be because the gulls understand that items wrapped in shiny plastic are more likely to contain food.
“The findings suggest that herring gulls have learned that handled food is likely to be a good resource. Given how quickly they may be disturbed when feeding in an urban setting, this is a smart strategy!” Said Mark Fellowes at the University of Reading, UK.
Watch the experiment below.