Study Reveals Herring Gull Chicks Prefer Seafood Over Urban Diet

Herring gulls have become notorious for disrupting seaside picnics, but new research from the University of Exeter reveals that their chicks prefer seafood, even when raised on human food scraps.

The study focused on herring gull chicks rescued from urban areas in Cornwall. While in captivity, the chicks were fed either a “marine” diet of mackerel, sprats, and mussels or an “urban” diet of bread and cat food. Despite their upbringing, all chicks showed a strong preference for fish.

Lead author Emma Inzani from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation commented, “When fish is available they clearly prefer it.” This suggests that even gulls raised on an urban diet might not seek out human food as adults.

The study involved 27 chicks, divided into two groups: one received urban food 80% of the time and seafood 20%, while the other group had the opposite. When presented with various foods on days 5, 10, 15, and 35, both groups consistently chose fish.

The researchers noted that despite being seen as urban pests, herring gulls are a species of conservation concern. Neeltje Boogert, another scientist involved, said: “Animals can live and exploit urban areas for human food waste. However, this does not necessarily mean they’re thriving or that they prefer this food, rather than making the best of a bad situation.”

The study highlights the impact of reduced fish stocks in UK waters and the abundance of food waste in towns, which may force gulls to scavenge in urban areas.

Interestingly, the findings contrast with a 2015 study on black-headed gulls, which preferred bread over fish in urban settings. The report emphasizes the need to understand how species adapt their food preferences amidst increasing urbanization and climate change.

This research provides crucial insights into the feeding behavior of herring gulls and underscores the importance of preserving marine food sources for their conservation.