Looking a Seagull in the Eye Might Stop It From Stealing Your Food


Tired of seagulls ruining your perfectly framed oceanside soft serve photos? Sick of them snatching that $40 lobster roll? Pissed that they’re pilfering your utensils? It’s like they own the beach or something and aren’t just part of the scenery. Well, don’t give into the screeching winged possums without a fight. Stare those coastal kleptoparasites in the eye and tell them, “No, this slice of beach pizza is actually mine!”

Sure, you could go through all the trouble of carrying around a personal falcon — a worthy accessory for any beach trip that will also strike fear in the hearts of beach bird scavengers. But is it really worth the time and trouble (not to mention the expense) necessary to capture and train a bird of prey? Plus, protective gloves really don’t match my floppy beach hat and bikini.

No, what really seems to do the trick is ogling those dirty birds deeply into the eye. Scientists at the University of Exeter report in a recent study that one somewhat effective way of deterring seabirds from sharing your sand-covered french fries is to join them in a staring contest. Really unnerve that gull with the same stare you’d give a pick-pocket or lifelong enemy during a final, climactic showdown.

These intrepid bird watchers set about to see if the simple act of gazing into the black eyes of a gull would deter it from snagging someone’s beach snack. The scientists used french fries as bait for 75 herring gulls. Only 19 of the birds actually stuck around long enough to participate in the actual study. (Unpaid surveys really aren’t worth the time, after all.) Of those birds that actually did take the bait, the ones that got glared at took an average of 21 seconds to go after a french fry versus 13 seconds for those who weren’t receiving eye contact. In short, looking deeply into the eye of a seagull could save you precious moments with your food…though maybe not long enough for an entire meal.

So this summer, tell those beach thieves enough is enough. You won’t allow them to eat your suitcase pepperoni any longer. Stare into the sinister eyes of your local beach seagull. The eyes of a thief. Tell it who’s the boss of the beach with your watchful eyeballs. Give some birds the creeps.

• Want Seagulls to Stop Stealing Your Food? Try Staring at Them, Scientists Say [CBS]
• Herring Gulls Respond to Human Gaze Direction [Royal Society of Publishing]



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