Watch: Gull stealing your seaside snack? Stare it down

Herring gulls looking for chips to go with their fish may be discouraged by a steady stare. ©John Brown

Keep an eye on those gulls trying to steal your beach snack. They might have second thoughts. A team of scientists at the University of Exeter experimented by putting a freezer bag full of English chips on the ground in coastal towns in Cornwall, England, and timing how long it took herring gulls (Larus argentatus) to dig in. In some trials, an experimenter stared straight at the gulls. In others, she avoided eye contact. They found the gulls took 21 seconds longer on average to approach the chip bag when they were being watched. “Some wouldn’t even touch the food at all,” lead author Madeleine Goumas told the BBC, “although others didn’t seem to notice that a human was staring at them.” The researchers plan to look next at how eating human foods affects the declining gulls and their chicks in the long term.

Check out the study in Ecology Letters and read more about the experiment in BBC News.