Seagulls stealing food from people called a sign of intelligence: “charismatic” actions

Seagulls stealing food from people called a sign of intelligence: “charismatic” actions


Birds learn to recognize different food options

Sun, sea, light refreshing breeze and seagulls that brazenly steal our food. Probably, many people associate holidays on the sea coast with this behavior of birds. However, scientists from the University of Sussex urge people not to be angry with birds, but to admire their “charismatic” actions.

“When we see behavior that we consider mischievous or criminal, we are actually seeing a really smart bird exhibiting very intelligent behavior. I think we need to learn to live with them,” Paul Graham, professor of neuroethology at the University of Sussex, told the BBC.

Professor Graham explains that gulls are being pushed into urban areas due to the loss of their natural habitat for a variety of reasons. In busy cities, birds face new challenges as they adapt to living close to people.

Last year, Professor Graham and his team conducted a study to understand why seagulls steal food from holidaymakers. The researchers went to Brighton seafront, where they placed one blue and one green packet of crisps in close proximity to individuals and groups of herring gulls. There was a man nearby who was alternately removing chips from a blue and green bag.

Scientists found that the seagulls turned their heads to look at the experimenter, and then, in most cases, pecked at a bag of chips of the corresponding color, trying to find food in it. This suggests that birds can learn to imitate human food choices, a key sign of intelligence.

“Although we know that animals learn from each other, we rarely see animals learn anything from an entirely different species when it comes to food preferences. This interaction with humans is relatively modern, and we see that gulls have adapted to life in urban environments by mimicking human food choices. Seagulls haven’t learned to like chips. Over time, they had to learn to interact with people in order to get food. Therefore, it is a sign of intelligence,” explained Paul Graham.

Researchers say the obvious solution to “gull terrorism” is to install larger, more secure containers in areas with large numbers of seagulls, and to educate the public not to leave food unattended.

“Seagulls are less likely to steal our food if we focus on reducing waste. Rubbish increases the gulls’ ability to learn what our food options are and how they taste,” explains Professor Graham.


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