Scientists claim seagulls are "intelligent" and not "criminal"

Seagulls are being forced into our cities due to the loss of natural spaces - and we need to learn to live with them, scientists say. Find out more here!

Affected by multiple pressures, from avian influenza to decreased fish reserves, seagull populations are decreasing in nature.

Taking into account the constant loss of habitat in nature, seagulls, in order to survive, are forced to move to urban areas, where they begin to conflict with humans for stealing food. However, instead of seeing them as pests, experts argue that we should respect these intelligent birds.

Paul Graham, from the University of Sussex, "when we see behaviors that we consider mischievous or (almost) criminal, we are seeing a very smart bird implementing very intelligent behavior".

Excluded from their natural habitats by human activities, species capable of adapting to urban life, such as the herring seagull, have no alternative but to move to urban areas to collect our waste, Graham said. And what, for us, is considered an uncomfortable behavior is a sign of your intelligence and social learning capacity.

Graham also states that during their life, seagulls learn which objects thrown away can serve as food and that they probably learned this by observing the older birds. Over time, these birds build a repertoire of very skillful behaviors that allow them to release food either from the garbage cans or directly from humans.

How can we get around this problem?

There are simple solutions to the problem, added Prof. Graham, such as the availability of larger and safer containers in public spaces and the education of people not to leave leftover food in sight.

This warning arises in a context of growing concern about the conservation of seagulls. The six main species of seagulls in the United Kingdom - the black-headed seagull, the common seagull, the Mediterranean seagull, the black-backed-black-backed seagull, the meadow-gull and the large-black-backed-backed seagull - are all in decline and are on the list of endangered species or, in the case of the meadow seagull, on the red list.

A more in-depth survey on the number of seagulls

In January, the first national study on winter seagulls in 20 years was carried out, to analyse the number and distribution of populations that spend the winter in the United Kingdom.

"I think people don't realize that the number of seagulls, especially breeding, has been decreasing. (...) They are in our cities, parks and urban areas and we have become very familiar with them."

Dawn Balmer, from the British Trust for Ornithology.

During the winter, seagulls perch in large numbers at night, which facilitates the counting of birds returning to lakes and reservoirs and provides valuable information on decline patterns.

"The seagulls are very charismatic creatures and have a bad reputation due to their sometimes aggressive behaviour at the breeding season," said Emma Caulfield, responsible for the Winter Gull Survey (WinGS). However, as Caulfield emphasises, they are part of our natural world and are just taking advantage of the hand that has been given to them and continues to be, whenever we leave leftover food in sight.

seagull; food
Herring seagulls are coming to the cities to feed on the remains of fish, as the number of fish in our seas decreases.

At the end of this year, more data on winter seagulls will be collected. The data collected will be used to develop better strategies for the conservation of seagulls.

Although natural nesting populations are in decline, some believe that the number of birds nesting in buildings has increased, but the data are limited, according to Natural England.