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14th March 2020

Science Seagulls prefer food touched by humans, study suggests shows

Science Seagulls prefer food touched by humans, study suggests shows

Science

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Seagulls prefer human-handled food, a new study suggests

Seagulls are more likely to be attracted to food that has been handled by humans first, new research suggests.

Scientists armed with two identical food items approached herring gulls in Cornwall.

When presented with a choice between the treats, 79% of the gulls opted for items they had seen in human hands.

Senior author Dr Laura Kelley, of Exeter University, said the study’s findings demonstrated the importance of disposing of food correctly.

The report, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, said a researcher carrying wrapped flapjacks covered by buckets approached lone gulls .

When the buckets were lifted, the researcher handled one of the flapjacks for 20 seconds before putting it back on the ground.

Of the 38 gulls tested, 24 pecked at one of the flapjacks and 19 of these (79%) chose the one that had been handled, the study said.

Lead author Madeleine Goumas, from the university’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation, said: “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.

“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 colonising urban areas,” she said.

Science ‘Observant birds’

Dr Kelley said seagull diets include fish and invertebrates but they can also eat household waste and food from landfill sites.

She said the study suggested seagulls may associate areas where people are eating with easy meals and were “more likely to approach food that they have seen people drop or put down”.

“Inadvertently feeding gulls reinforces these associations,” she said.

Tony Whitehead, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), told the BBC the results of the experiment were “fascinating”.

“What stood out for me was just how observant these birds are,” he said.

He called on people to stop feeding the birds as they are “getting used to it” and becoming disliked by the general population.

“They can’t distinguish between something that is given and something that is just there,” Mr Whitehead said.

“If we can reduce the conflict we can improve the image of these birds”, he said.

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