Seagulls head to big city not for better homes, but more abundant food

June 2, 2016, Taylor & Francis

Being bothered by gulls while eating our chips is a problem most city-dwellers have encountered. Now, scientists have reported in the journal Bird Study that concentrating on making food supplies less accessible may prove more effective at countering these 'nuisance events' than removing rooftop nesting.

The researchers, based at Buijs Eco Consult B.V., Oud-Vossemeer, The Netherlands, and the Institute of Environmental Biology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands, studied a nearby colony of gulls in The Hague in 2014. By tracking colour-ringed gulls throughout the study area, the researchers were able to monitor numbers and behaviours during different breeding phases.

Conflicts between gulls and human populations are a particular problem in seaside towns, with noise, defecation, aggression and destruction of rubbish bags all highlighted as problems. The increase in urban breeding colonies in the Netherlands is thought to be due to increased predication of the gulls in their natural breeding grounds by the red fox.

Many previous studies have focussed on the urban nesting grounds and the gulls' behaviour around landfill refuse sites, but this is one of the first large-scale studies to investigate the use of cities by gulls in traditional breeding colonies and their contribution to these 'nuisance events'.

As expected, the number of gulls observed decreased during the laying and incubation periods, and peaked post-hatching – coinciding with an increase in the number of so-called 'nuisance events'. These events were defined by the researchers as any event where more than 25 gulls interacted with a human activity (such as garden party, or around food waste) for a period of more than 15 minutes.

The Hague is a coastal city in the Netherlands where large species such as the Lesser Black-backed (larus fuscus) and Herring (Larus argentatus) gulls are considered to be a pest. The researchers tracked gulls tagged with coloured rings for a six-month period, often moving around the city on their bicycles and observing the gulls with binoculars or cameras with a telephoto lens.

They found that of the 49 nuisance events observed involving the colour-ringed gulls, only four were in the laying and early incubation periods. Furthermore, the majority of these nuisance events occurred where rubbish was available. The researchers conclude that making the source of food less available during the key two months of the breeding season, such as by storing underground, should be effective to prevent the majority of gull-human conflicts.

Naomi Huig, one of the authors of the study, commented that "the issue about gull nuisance is a recurring topic in press and politics that divides opinions in several coastal cities. There is, however, a lot of misunderstanding about this problem.

The peak of this problem is limited to two months in summer. The most important conclusion of this paper is that controlling the rooftop-breeding gulls is not the solution to prevent nuisance. As long as food is available, will be attracted to urban areas from elsewhere. Practical solutions that limit food availability especially in the summer months can be very effective in the prevention of nuisance if applied thoroughly."

Explore further: Eating habits of gulls match their surroundings

More information: Naomi Huig et al. Summer in the city: behaviour of large gulls visiting an urban area during the breeding season, Bird Study (2016). DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2016.1159179

Related Stories

Eating habits of gulls match their surroundings

February 6, 2015

Black-headed gulls choose food most likely to be found in their immediate environment, with birds in urban areas selecting less 'natural' foods than their rural counterparts, according to a study by the University of Liverpool.

Gulls follow ducks to find dinner

November 4, 2015

Gulls have learned to follow diving ducks and take the bottom-dwelling mussels that the ducks bring to the surface, a food source that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. Gulls are one of the most adaptable groups of ...

Combating the rise of the urban gull

February 16, 2016

Academics and students from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) have begun a unique project studying the interaction between humans and urban gulls. A team of psychology undergraduates will monitor the birds ...

Mercury pollution danger for arctic ivory gulls

March 20, 2015

A paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B today says that mercury levels in arctic ivory gulls have risen almost 50 fold over the last 130 years. Scientists think this increase in mercury pollutants could be to blame ...

Paris: Home of Eiffel Tower, Louvre and ...seagulls

August 30, 2013

A two-hour drive from the French coast, Paris sets up an artificial seashore on the banks of the Seine each summer and while the beach may be fake, the seagulls overhead turn out to be real.

Recommended for you

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

Correlated nucleons may solve 35-year-old mystery

February 20, 2019

A careful re-analysis of data taken at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has revealed a possible link between correlated protons and neutrons in the nucleus and a 35-year-old mystery. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.