At the beach and on the boardwalk, seagulls have a bad reputation for swooping down on unsuspecting people to steal their food. But scientists recently discovered there's a simple solution for deterring these avian thieves: Stare at them. Via: Live Science
Whereas a gull might be tempted to swipe your snack when you're distracted, they're less likely to come near if you pay attention to them, researchers recently reported.
Their experiments demonstrated that gulls were more cautious about approaching a tempting treat if there was a person nearby who was watching them closely.
However, the scientists also found that far fewer of the birds than expected showed interest in investigating the food at all when being stared at.
Scientists put a bag of chips on the ground to see how long before the birds swooped.
The herring gulls took 21 seconds longer to pounce with people watching than when they weren't. Of the 74 gulls examined by researchers, only 27 of them, or 36 percent, actually attempted to go for the food. Those that were being stared at took a much longer time to attempt snatching food than those who weren't — 21 seconds longer, on average.
The research, which was conducted by a team from the University of Exeter and published in the Royal Society Publishing’s Biology Letters journal, centered on two versions: the 'staring" and the 'Look away" versions.
In the "Looking At" version, the experimenter would look straight at the gull and follow it with her gaze if it moved toward the bag to collect the food. In the "Looking Away" version, the experimenter looked to either the left or right of the gull at about a 60 degree angle and held this position until the gull made it all the way to the bag of fries.
They found that the direction of the person’s gaze had a significant effect on the gulls’ latency to approach food.
"This demonstrates that gulls use behavioral cues from humans when making foraging decisions in urban environments, and that they find human gaze aversive," wrote Madeleine Goumas, the lead author on the paper.