There is nothing more frustrating then when you finally sit down to enjoy your takeaway only for a seagull to swoop in and attack your feast.
But now there is a simple solution to stop them from stealing your food – by staring at them, according to new research
In an initial study conducted by scientists, they put a bag of chips on the ground as bait and tested how long it took herring gulls to approach.
With a human watching, this was an average 21 seconds more than when they looked away, with most keeping well away.
And a further study has now shown gulls were slower to move away when not being watched – allowing a human to get 1.9m closer on average.
The latest research involved scientists approaching gulls while either looking at the ground or directly at the birds.
The study was conducted in Cornwall, United Kingdom, targeting adult gulls aged four years or older, and juveniles born in the year of the study.
A total of 155 seagulls were tested, made up of 50 adults and 45 juveniles in urban settlements, and 34 adults and 26 juveniles in rural settlements.
Lead author Madeleine Goumas, of the Center for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said seagulls were increasingly breeding and foraging in urban areas and therefore have regular interactions with humans.
“We know from previous research that gulls are less likely to peck a bag of chips if a human is watching – but in that experiment, the researcher either looked at the gulls or turned their head away,” Ms Goumas said.
“In our new study, the experimenter approached while facing the gull and only changed the direction of their eyes – either looking down or at the gull.”
Results also showed newly fledged gulls were also just as likely to react to human gaze direction as older birds, suggesting they are born with this tendency or quickly learn it.
“We were interested to find that gulls pay attention to human eye direction specifically and that this is true for juveniles as well as adults – so their aversion to human gaze isn’t a result of months or years of negative interactions with people,” Ms Goumas added.
Researchers from the University of Exeter say they wanted to test the theory that the gulls notice when approaching humans are looking, and flee sooner when they are being watched.
The study, also confirmed the widely held view that urban gulls are bolder than rural gulls, letting a person get on average 8 feet closer before walking or flying away.
The previous study carried out by Ms Goumas last year tempted the gulls in coastal towns with chips to see if staring reduced their attempts to pilfer.
Seagulls approached more slowly or not at all when they were being watched. But many approached within seconds when the experimenter looked away.
“By keeping an eye on gulls, people could potentially save their lunch while reducing negative encounters with this rapidly declining species,” Ms Goumas said.
Her team attempted to test 74 birds along the Cornish coast but most flew away, with just 27 approaching the food.
That study was published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters and focused on the 19 birds that completed both the “looking at” and “looking away” tests.
“Of those that did approach, most took longer when they were being watched,” Ms Goumas said.
“Some wouldn’t even touch the food at all, although others didn’t seem to notice that a human was staring at them.
“We didn’t examine why individual gulls were so different – it might be because of differences in ‘personality’ and some might have had positive experiences of being fed by humans in the past.”
The new paper, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, is entitled: Herring gull aversion to gaze in urban and rural human settlements.