Posted 4th Jun 2018
Traditionally one of the sounds of the seaside, gulls are as much a part of a trip to the coast as ice creams and sand between the toes
They’re also some of the smartest birds we can see in the UK, quick to learn new ways to find food. Gulls know that if they drop shellfish from a height the shell will crack and they can get at the tasty treat inside. They’ve also worked out that the activities of people can also help them feed. We’ve seen them following trawlers at sea for fish scraps, and tractors on land to get at unearthed worms. Over several decades, some of these incredibly adaptable birds started moving into cities.
Our buildings provide ideal nest ledges just like coastal cliffs with the added benefit of being a little warmer and safer from natural predators: a great place to incubate eggs and raise chicks! As an added bonus there’s often food nearby too, in open litter bins or discarded on the street. How could an intelligent but hungry bird resist?
The urban pioneers we’re most likely to see are herring and lesser black-backed gulls. Both are large birds, and the adults have yellow beaks with a red dot on them. Herring gulls have light grey backs and pink legs, and lesser black-backed gulls have dark grey backs and yellow legs. If you’re in Gateshead, Newcastle or Lowestoft you’ll also see kittiwakes, which are slightly smaller, gentle looking birds with a yellow beak, dark eyes and black legs. These birds gather their food at sea, away from people.
Gulls are excellent parents and take great care of their young. Sometimes this means they try to warn off the larger city-dwelling two-legged creatures that might accidentally stray too close! If you have a gull nest nearby, remember the birds are just trying to be perfect parents, and for the few weeks as their chicks grow and become more mobile but are vulnerable please give them plenty of space.
Having worked out that we sometimes accidentally or even deliberately feed them or drop delicious morsels, some gulls have learnt they can also snatch food from people. Stealing food is a natural tactic for gulls who often snatch fish from birds like puffins which will have dived to catch their prey. The best way to stop this is to never deliberately feed them, and dispose of all food waste promptly in secure bins. If you’re eating outdoors near gulls, sit with your back to a wall so they can’t sneak up on you and, if walking along with a pasty or ice cream, try to keep it close to you rather than at arm’s length, and let any nearby gulls know you’re aware of them by making eye contact!
Gulls have rather unfairly gained a bad reputation, but if we can learn to live alongside them these clever and curious birds are fascinating to watch.
Find out more about wildlife on the RSPB website: www.rspb.org.uk
Piece written by Jamie Wyver / RSPB