Seagulls prefer to approach food that has been handled by people, suggesting that the birds may use human cues to find a meal.
Madeleine Goumas at the University of Exeter, UK, says the idea for her research came from observing how seagulls acted around humans. “Are they just looking for food, or are they noticing what people are doing and picking up on their cues?” she says.
Goumas and her colleagues conducted an experiment in which she individually approached 38 herring gulls (Larus argentatus) on the Cornish coast with two buckets, each containing a flapjack in plastic wrapping. Standing about 8 metres from the bird, Goumas removed the flapjacks from the buckets and placed them at an equal distance from her.
She then picked up one of the flapjacks and pretended to eat it for 20 seconds, before putting it back down and walking away from both flapjacks. Some of the seagulls ignored her, but of the 24 that picked up a flapjack, 19 chose the one Goumas had handled.
Goumas then repeated the experiment with blue sponges the same size and shape as the flapjacks. Of the 23 seagulls that pecked at a sponge, only eight chose the one she had handled, which is not statistically different from what we would expect by chance.
The team cannot say for sure whether the gulls were able to differentiate between the food and the sponges, but Goumas speculates that the differing results may be due to the birds understanding that items in shiny plastic wrapping are more likely to be food-related.
“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!” says Mark Fellowes at the University of Reading, UK.
Journal reference: Royal Society Open Science, DOI: 10.1098/rsos.191959
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Source: Thanks https://www.newscientist.com/article/2235193-seagulls-are-more-likely-to-pick-up-food-that-humans-have-handled/