Gulls, often referred to as seagulls, are very fast learners and may in fact be smarter than some thought, a new discovery in ornithology finds.
In their study, Polish ornithologists looked at Herring gulls and Mew gulls in the Szczecin Lagoon, on the German-Polish border. They found that the gulls would follow ducks – that collected mussels from the seafloor – and would sometimes steal their food.
An article published Wednesday in The Auk – a bird science journal – noted that the gulls took the leftovers when the ducks would dive in the water to retrieve mussels, and even stole food directly from the ducks’ mouths.
People usually perceive gulls – seabirds of the family Laridae – as opportunistic scavengers. However, researchers say that their cunning behaviour may actually indicate an amazing level of adaptability which helps them find new ways to get food.
Dominik Marchowski, an ornithologist at the University of Szczecin in Poland, said that not many studies have been conducted on the relationship between gulls and ducks.
Mr. Marchowski believes that these types of studies are important, because they can shed light on the behaviour of birds which may hide intriguing, never-before seen interactions.
“[The new discovery] shows the dynamic processes of the creation of new ecological niches, which can lead to coevolutionary episodes, and can have implications for the evolution of biological diversity,” Marchowski said.
According to Marchowski, gulls are extremely fast learners. For instance, if one gull discovers a new, easy, and efficient method of getting food, others will soon follow this method.
In the Szczecin Lagoon, the closure of a refuse dump resulted in the decrease in food stocks, which forced the gulls to adapt to the situation and find new ways to obtain food.
The behaviour of gulls can also indicate changes in an ecosystem, such as the increase in invasive species. Marchowski says that this issue is as important as climate change.
Zebra Mussels – the birds’ source of food – are the invasive species in this case. They are massively present in the Szczecin Lagoon in Poland, and on the Great Lakes located on the Canada–United States border.
Image Source: evoke