The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Seagulls

First-year glaucous-winged gull, Victoria.

First-year glaucous-winged gull, Victoria BC

They’re loud, greedy, invasive, polluting and aggressive. They eat anything that moves and a lot of things that don’t. Hate them if you will, but seagulls are 100% badass. Here are the secrets to their astounding success.

1. Communicate. Loudly.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “They screech and they squawk; you call that communicating?” Actually, yes. We may not be sure what they’re saying, but clearly they’ve got something on their minds. Stop and listen next time, and try to note down what you hear. It’ll be a call note or a long call, or a choke call, or an anxiety call, or a mew, a head toss, a copulation call (would that be a booty call?), an attack call or a departure call. I’ve recently learned to recognize the alarm call. It’s a lot like their other calls, but there’s a certain urgency to it. Hear the call, look up, see a bald eagle. Every time. It’s pretty cool.

And I can personally attest to the uniqueness of the copulation call. I witnessed it all spring- it kind of goes ew-ew-ew-ew-ew-ew-ew. Once you learn it, you’ll recognize it a mile away. Follow it to the source and you’ll see two gulls copulating, guaranteed—followed shortly after by post-copulation calling. It kind of goes, “What, that’s it?”

That would be the long call. Western gull, California.

That would be the long call. Western gull, California.

2. Cooperate.

Gulls are social creatures. Kind of like us, in fact. Most of the time, they act like they can’t stand each other. They squabble, they posture, they fight, they eat each other’s eggs… but deep down, they know they need each other. There’s an understanding among gulls, an uneasy peace that’s built on a strict code of status and seniority. The top gulls, usually the most mature, probably get the best real estate at the centre of the colony. That way, when the predators come by to do their plundering, the poor lower-status saps get eaten first.

But here’s the thing: with all that tension and rivalry, they know when to band together. When the eagles attack, or the foxes charge in, a disciplined white air force takes wing, diving, screeching, and shite-bombing all intruders like a well-oiled machine. Shock and awe.

So cooperate. Remember who your friends are. And don’t forget, when things get tough, you can always eat the neighbour’s children.

Ring-billed gull, Vancouver

Ring-billed gull, Vancouver

3. Adapt

I once knew a veterinarian who worked a lot with endangered species. She said that every species on the brink of extinction had a damn good reason for being there: they’re fussy feeders, they freeze to death in a stiff breeze, they only breed every third new moon of a leap year, and so on.

Gulls, on the other hand, are easy to please. Here in Vancouver, back in the day, our gulls would only nest on certain rocky islands offshore. Pricey real estate, as you can imagine, if you’re a gull. So around 1970 or so, they decided to branch out. The early adopters, the hipsters of the gull world if you will, moved to the mainland. Suddenly everybody had to do it, and their breeding success skyrocketed. Not long after, another gull pioneer had the bright idea of nesting on our flat apartment rooftops, which are basically artificial islands, just as secure as the old-school rocky ones. Dumb like a fox, these birds.

Laughing gull, Autigua

Laughing gull, Antigua

4. Persevere

I used to work at the Vancouver Aquarium, and got to hang out with the marine mammal trainers a lot. They used to work so hard with their whales and dolphins, patiently training them, encouraging them, rewarding them with herring, squid, and more herring. The reinforcement schedule was basically 1:1—a reward for every behaviour completed successfully. That’s a high-maintenance program.

But meanwhile, lurking behind the trainers, were the glaucous-winged gulls. Waiting. For hours, they would hang back, hungry, biding their time. “Soon… soon,” their hungry eyes would say. And sure enough, sooner or later, the trainer would have a careless moment, and bang! The gull would lunge in for the fish. Sometimes it didn’t work. Sometimes the trainer would close the fish bucket in the bird’s face. Sometimes the trainer would smack the gull with a target pole. Didn’t matter; they’d just wait for the moment to come around again. Seriously, the reinforcement schedule for that behaviour must have been 1:543 and still they persevered. And eventually, they got their fish. I once watched a gull snatch a fish out of the steely jaws of a 1600-pound rutting male Steller sea lion. I swear it did a victory lap around the entire facility.

Heermann's gull, California

Heermann’s gull, California

5. Use your hidden talents.

Gulls have at least two superpowers. First, they can drink saltwater. Think about it: water, water everywhere, but when you’re seabird, what are you going to drink? Well, seagulls just drink the ocean, and are able to pump the salt out through a gland at the base of their bill. Very few animals can do that: seabirds, crocodiles, sharks, and sea turtles. That’s gangsta, son.

And, despite their reputations as walking garbage dumps, they have one amazing power of discernment: they can sense paralytic shellfish poisoning before it’s too late. Within five minutes of eating a bad clam, they puke it up... and won’t touch that species of clam again.

Lesser black-backed gull, Sweden

Lesser black-backed gull, Sweden

6. Diversify

Have you ever seen a snail kite? I didn’t think so. They’re beautiful birds, but picky eaters. They patrol the everglades of the southern US in search of apple snails, which are pretty much their only food source. When the apple snails decline, so do the snail kites. Bummer.

But gulls? Pretty much anything, anywhere, anytime. If it breathes, grows or moves, or did so recently, it’s dinner. Wild gulls, in wild areas, eat mussels, clams, gooseneck barnacles, fish and other birds’ eggs.  But here in the city, they’re basically eating french fries and Cheetos. Their catholic food tastes (that’s small-c catholic, though the image of them eating communion wafers actually amuses me a little more than it should) are the single biggest reason for their incredible success.

Glaucous-winged gull, Tsawwassen, BC

Glaucous-winged gull, Tsawwassen, BC (License this image)

7. Just do it

If there’s one thing gulls do well, besides eating garbage, it’s making babies. They’re actually remarkably attentive parents, with both Mom and Dad doting on their two or three chicks for months before they’re independent. I got to witness this first-hand this year: two pairs nested on the rooftops across our alley. Cute. Educational. Charming. But holy baby Jesus, the noise.

And they are committed. With some of the less-successful species, you look at them the wrong way and the entire breeding season is a write-off. With whooping cranes, for instance, everything needs to be perfect, and I mean absolutely perfect or they just can’t. Humidity a little off? Bad weather? Too many flies? It’s over. Don’t even talk to them. But gulls? Pffff. A predator can walk into their colony and lay waste to their nests, and they just rebuild. And they’ll do it again, and again… an average of 4.7 times before they finally write it off for lack of time left in the season.

Their high reproductive success, coupled with their incredibly flexible feeding habits, means their populations are skyrocketing. Here on the west coast, we have a 350% increase in gull populations in the last fifty years. And that’s a problem. When they’re not eating garbage, they’re eating other birds’ eggs. (Sometimes they’re just eating other birds; I know a birder who was watching a gull stand beside a little sandpiper, perfectly peacefully on the shore, and suddenly, GULP. No more sandpiper.) If we don’t stop fuelling their garbage addiction, the problem will only get worse. Many of our seabirds are in trouble; the last thing they need is an artificially-inflated squadron of gulls hunting them down in breeding season.

Please dump your garbage in the dumpster, where it belongs. These supremely well-equipped birds don’t really need any extra help from us, anyway.

Dolphin gull, Argentina

Dolphin gull, Argentina (License this image)

Have you been awakened at 4 am by gulls? “Decorated” from above? Mugged for your sandwich by a gull? Please share your gull stories in the comments below!

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95 Comments

  1. You accidentally a word in you penultimate paragraph there. Great article! I am saddened at how these birds succeed at the expense of other, but that’s our fault mostly, and they are wonderful animals in their own right.

    • JB- thanks very much for your eagle (seagull?) eye in spotting my omission. And bonus points for “penultimate”! I agree that their unfortunate ecological position is largely our fault. They really are remarkable creatures.

      • On a recent trip to England to sing in a men’s choral festival we were continuously awakened at 2 a.m. 3 a.m. and throughout the rest of the morning by these interesting creatures. i haven’t had a poetic or composing bone in my body previous to this but i composed what i called The Pentire Lullaby, Pentire denoting the name of the hotel we resided in in Newquay. We heard the mews, the scolding, the jealous remarks etc, and were sure they were communicating in a language as unique as our own. Some of the sounds seemed to reverberate right from their stomachs, thus the wording in my song referring to their guttural burps in one line to rhyme with various other chirps.
        I think the author of Jonathan Living Seagull must have secretly known a thing or two about them that we do not!

  2. I enjoyed reading your information about seagulls. I’m 67 years old now, but when I was 14 and 15 I spent two summers with Joe Reddington, the dog musher, on his fishing boat (the Nomad) in Cook Inlet. We lived “off the land” eating fish, other wildlife, and sea gull eggs. He taught me to only take one egg from a sea gull nest that had two eggs because the eggs had probably not been incubated yet because they usually layed three.

  3. What a fantastic article and what a great laugh I had!

    I’m going to be seeing seagulls in a whole new light now in addition to being the most patient birds I’ve ever seen.

    Thanks!

  4. Watched a seagull stubbornly spend an afternoon trying to swallow a 6″ seastar.

    Head space of a gull: Watched a flock pester an eagle. The eagle took flight, the gulls pursued. In the melee of screeching and circling the eagle masterfully trapped a swooping gull just above the water and tore it to shreds on shore. The rest of the flock fought over the remains.

    We have a gull that shows up on the railing every morning at 8am for his/her piece of bread. The gull seems to have come with the house we bought last fall. Last spring he disappeared and we feared the worst, but just this morning (October 23) he/she was back on the railing, 8am, sharp! I guess they head elsewhere for summer.

  5. Hi,
    I rescued a sea gull when i was driving to work and it is in my boot. I noticed it on the main highway as i was going to woolwich mcdonalds plumstead. There was a police car behind me and i told them ti rescue it. But they just put it on the side of the pavement . So i told them to put it in my boot and i will take care of it. They told me not to eat it. And they put it in my boot and left. I fed it with buns and cheese and water and it does not want to leave my car now. I am taking it to my home now and will show my kids age 7 and age 4. They r all excited to hear about the news. I work in mcdonalds .

  6. Hello, Don. I enjoyed your post on seagulls. Thought I’d share a story my grandmother shared with me. One day while my grandmother and grandfather were driving along the coast of the south shores of Long Island, NY, my grandfather eyed a gull that had dropped, as they often do, a clam onto the road pavement with the intent to break it open to get to the food inside. Only this time, the clam dropped precariously close to their car. My grandfather, who was driving, suddenly stopped the car and leaped out to snatch up the clam. Both gull and grandfather had an affinity for clams, only the grandfather was quicker! He was carrying his pocket knife and beat the poor gull to the meal!

    • Hi Gideon- I’ve never seen them do that, the way loons and swans do. It seems to be a way of sheltering the chicks while on the water, and gull chicks don’t really get to the water’s edge until they’re flying themselves and as big as their parents.

  7. I summer in Ocean City, NJ. There is a small private beach across the street from my house. Everyday, without fail, within five minutes of sitting down in my chair, the same seagull approaches me and stands by my side. Not at a distance. Right beside me. I know it’s the same bird because I’ve learned his mannerisms and his markings, compared to the other seagulls. This is the second year in a row he’s come keep me company on the beach. He has actually somewhat “claimed” me, because when other seagulls come around(even to fly over) he lowers his head, shortens his neck and speeds in their direction before returning to his spot. If there are other people on the beach, I won’t feed him so as not to annoy them if other seagulls spot me sneaking him treats. But when it’s just the two of us, I scan around to make sure no other gulls can see, and drop him little bits of stale chips/crackers. I’ve been able to sit and read my book, occasionally crumble up little stale bits, and feed him without any other gulls knowing- often for over an hour. We have a stealthy system! Fun fact- since it’s now been two years and he is very respectful and patient, I’ve named him Scuttle. The same name as the seagull from The Little Mermaid. I’m such a nerd! But also a sucker for my Scuttle buddy!!

  8. Don – You seem to know quite a bit about seagulls. I am in La Jolla by the beach. Seagull haven. On Friday, I chased a confused baby gull (large and grey) out of the street where it was going to get hit by a car. Mom was nearby making a loud scene. The baby didn’t seem really ready to fly. Very soon after I saw the baby up on a nearby rooftop outside my work window. Now 3 days later it is Monday and the baby is still on the rooftop. Two gulls appear to be protecting it by sitting on two opposite chimney tops. Up to eight gulls will swoop around above them appearing to be protecting their turf. Two other grey babies just flew over to the little one. Flapping their wings in an apparent bid to show the little one how to fly. They stayed with him for about 5 minutes, but I don’t see them anymore. I fear that the little one is going to become weak from lack of nourishment and die. It’s breaking my heart…..I could hear the little guy peeping when I was outside….

    • Hi Shawn- I wouldn’t worry too much; it sounds like a normal scenario. The baby is fledging; it is able to fly from its original nest to the street below and to the rooftop nearby. It sounds like the parents are still attending to it. It has no need to go back to the nesting spot; it will continue to move gradually from spot to spot as it gains strength and mobility, and the parents will continue to feed it wherever it hangs out. It will continue to beg for food months to come; they’ll keep making that sad begging sound until next spring.

    • I am just sitting at the beach in New Hampshire and noticed that when the seagulls are in the ground, they not only are facing the wind, but they seem to be constantly opening and closing their beaks as if gulping in air. What is that all about?

  9. We’ve been watching two baby seagulls since they hatched on a roof on Granville Street. The parents would continually ‘tag’ off but for the last two days one of them seems to have disappeared. What happens if one of the parents has been seriously injured or killed?

    • Hi Baily- As far as I know, if one parent is eliminated, the other will do its best to finish raising the young- with varying degrees of success, as I understand it. It may depend on how advanced the chicks are at this point. Next year the adult will likely find another mate.

        • Baily- we have a couple on a rooftop near us. They’re fairly close to maturity, flapping a lot too. It won’t be long before they’re ready to leave the nest. They’ll continue to beg and be fed by the parent(s), but they’ll do their own foraging as well.

  10. We’ve been watching two baby seagulls since they hatched. The Mom and Dad would ‘tag’ off continuously throughout the day. For the last two days the Dad seagull has not returned and the Mom has not left the roof but keeps calling out. What happens when one of the parents is seriously injured or killed?

  11. I am being hunted by seagulls at this very moment. I can hear them screeching outside. I gave them a cheesy cracker. Just ONE cheesy cracker. Maybe it’s cause I was feeling generous. I have been known to feed birds out of the kindness of my heart. Ravens, crows, ducks. But today, I fed a seagull, and now I have a price of my head. This one, lowly seagull was sitting on the ground, so I tossed him a cracker. He gratefully scooped it up. But then he looked at me, and he screamed. That’s when the sky went black with seagulls, all circling towards me. I ran inside, and now they’re plotting to kill me. If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late…

  12. I was recently watching a river otter swim in the ocean off the coast of San Juan Island. The sea gulls were constantly screeching and diving at him, even as he persisted in staying in the ocean. At first I felt sorry for the otter, but later thought that maybe he was trying to eat the same fish that the sea gulls were eating? Have you ever observed this sort of behavior? Thanks, Debbie

    • Hi Debbie- I’ve never seen that particular scenario but I’m guessing the otter had caught something—a fish or invertebrate—and the gulls wanted a piece of it. Otters can dive; gulls can’t. Likewise dolphins, seals, cormorants, loons etc. so the gulls do their best to take advantage of them.

  13. In the past 3 months or so we have had a grown seagull sit on the porch railing of the house behind us and … Mew (?). A low repetitive one tone caw sort of call… Like a chicken after it lays an egg. Sometimes for hours. Other gulls will fly over and call but it just sits there. Why.

    • Hi- when you say grown seagull, do you mean with adult, white plumage? I ask because it sounds like begging behaviour, something you’d expect from a young gull, which may be full-sized and fully-featherd but with mottled plumage. They make that begging call right up until their second spring.
      If it is a full-grown gull, I’m not sure why it’s calling repeatedly- unless it has lost a mate, perhaps.

  14. One of our doors (leading to the outside), is coated with a reflective material. Each day, the same sea gull (I think it’s the same one) stands in front of the door and pecks at the glass and squawks. All day. Why is it behaving this way? How can I deter him/her? It’s been going on for over 4 months!

    • I can think of a few reasons why: someone is rewarding it for doing so (are you sure there’s nobody in your household feeding it?) Alternately, it simply sees its own reflection and is either attracted to the bird it sees there or, more likely, is threatened by what it perceives as an interloper. To make it go away, first make sure it isn’t being fed, and secondly you’re going to have to break up or eliminate the reflection, with tape or paper or something, until the gull moves on. Good luck!

  15. I’ve recently been trained by a gull that’s been landing on our deck railing, to feed it several times a day. I know it’s the same one because it has a missing foot (though that isn’t rare, I know). When it sees me through the window it gives me the eye until I come out and feed it.

    Of course they’re scavengers and will eat pretty much anything (home-cooked spaghetti in tomato sauce seems to be the favourite so far) but there was an argument at the family dinner table tonight about whether cheese is an appropriate food for a non-mammal. You say they can detect poisoned shellfish – do they know about other things that may not be good for their digestive systems?

    • Hi Pam- I would think not. They wouldn’t have any evolutionary mechanism to detect toxins in new food items, unless those toxins were the same compounds as in their traditional food sources. That would have to be honed through generations of natural selection.
      As to whether cheese is harmful to them, I really can’t say. But I suspect not, given the versatility of their digestive systems.

  16. We live on Fidalgo Island in the Pacific Northwest and our deck is very near the saltwater. About six years ago a pair of adult gulls showed up and hung out on the deck railing. We fed them for a couple of days and then, realizing the mistake, have not fed them since. They now show up periodically and just hang out on the railing, but not squawking for food at all. I can walk right past them without them taking flight. They sometimes rest on the rail and even sleep there, but they are always watching us through the windows. If we move to another room, they sometimes move along the rail to better watch our curious human behavior…spooky. We have named them Bird-a and Al-bird. Your article was very enlightening. We suspected that these two have mated for life, but did not know that was usual behavior for gulls. I envy them. What other wild animal has the time to layabout and even fly just for the apparent joy of it? There’s a lot to be said for not being particular about one’s daily diet!

  17. Hi

    I have been living in Cardiff Bay South Wales (previously known as Cardiff Docks – Tiger Bay) for the last two years. As you can well imagine its main bird population here are seagulls. Locals hate them and call them flying rats. Last summer I was having lunch over Mermaid Quay outside Salt restaurant with two friends and a granddaughter. We had all taken our (4) dogs too. We were just exiting the table and a gull swooped in to get the scraps on the plate. We were paralysed to the spot and so was the crowded promanade. I think it was the event but the wing span took us all by shock. The speed at which it happened was amazing but the moment was in slow motion. Never to be forgotten.

    Last night as often I do I took my two dogs for a walk on the complex where I live and often I hear seagulls screaming in the distance and when the din dies they become laughing seagulls.
    On occasions between one to six seagulls fly over the green between our apartment blocks at this time. Last night it happened but just one of the seagulls was making sounds repeatedly like a ships warning horn at sea as a kind of long hoot sound. I’ve never heard it before. It was a good mimic of it. A little like the early seventies when a certain species of bird started to mimic the trill sound of the fashionable trim phone of the time. I would be interested to know why the hoot?

    Rossy.

  18. Hi again, Don.

    The red-billed gull we started feeding in December is still turning up several times most days for a feed. Pete (the Pirate, because of his missing foot) lands on the deck railing and squawks until someone goes out to give him a bit of tinned cat food or something, after which he flies away again. In December, he was gobbling as much as he could cram into his throat, and then some, up to seven times a day – feeding chicks, we assumed. And then, a bit later, he turned up with a fully-grown juvenile (with brown spots) as if to show him, Look, here’s where you can get a free meal. The youngster, which we assumed was his offspring since he drives away every other gull that’s tried to get in on the act, was too scared to take food, though, and we’ve never seen it since.

    Unfortunately, gulls here in New Zealand have recently been classed as vulnerable, probably due to less krill for some reason, plus introduced predators like rats, cats and stoats. So we’ll keep feeding Pete.

    Pam

  19. Hi Don,
    Thank you for very beautiful story. Thank you everybody for interesting comments. I like to walk along the beach and seagulls took my attention. They are very organized. The colony always has somebody who watches out in the head of the flock and couple of others is watching along the sides. They behave like humans sometimes. I saw how two seagulls were fighting. And others, who did not approve their behavior, walked away in disgust. I do not understand where and why they disappeared sometimes. During the beautiful days, at the spring or summer, or the other season of the year, suddenly the beach is empty. There are not seagulls there. I could not find any explanation. Maybe you can help.
    Zhanna

  20. For the last few weeks a seagull has been coming up to my balcony and knocking on my window with its beak, then it make almost talking sounds before eventually leaving. I find this extremely peculiar and it’s never happened before. I have even managed to get him on a short video. Because no one was believing me, they thought I was dreaming it.

    Is this normal behaviour? Or have I got a clever gull. I have never fed it.

  21. Hi Don, thanks for the fascinating and funny article! We moved to Looe in Cornwall from the Midlands only a few days ago and are lucky enough to see a family growing up just outside our yard and to be regularly visited by a pair we have christened Stephen and Stephanie, who seem to be still in the honeymoon period of their relationship! They are never far apart and totally besotted with each other, greeting each other when reunited and touching bills like they are kissing! All very sweet until I was woken me up at 6am this morning by an almighty racket right outside our door. I went outside and caught them making whoopee on a flat roof right next to our yard! When I demanded “Do you know what time it is?” they had the decency to look ashamed and fly off, totally embarressed! They are such versatile, clever birds, apparently in one town in Cornwall, they walk into shops and steal ONLY the fish and chip flavoured crisps off the shelf (how do they know? Have they learnt to read?!) and they attack people from behind to take them by surprise and steal their Cornish pasties! Unfortunately they are hated by the locals who do not seem to be amazed at their intellegence, versatility and devotion to each other and their chicks as we are. We have already witnessed a nest being destoyed and heard them being called “vermin”. So sad, so maligned and misunderstood.

    • It’s completely illegal to destroy bird nests in England! You should report them! Herring gulls are a protected species.

      • I had only just moved here and didn’t know that at the time, but definitely will if I see that again. I love the gulls and hate seeing people being mean to them! They are funny, intelligent and beautiful creatures! I have seen a lady feeding gull with only one foot, so some of the locals are kind to them, but not many unfortunately. 🙁

  22. On a rooftop near me are a pair of nesting seagulls they come down on to my back garden wall and I now hand feed them…I call them my pets and people at work ..
    A resteraunt bar where I collect scrap meals
    Laugh but I have grown to love them and feed them every day

  23. I have been watching a pair of seagulls for a month or more on the rooftop opposite me. The gulls took turn in sitting on the nest but all of a sudden have disappeared without producing chicks. They keep returning to the nest and then fly away. What could have happened ?

  24. I have so enjoyed reading all these posts. We just moved to Vancouver and can see 6 separate nests on the roof tops across from us. The two closest ones are very interesting. The one hatched first. I would see the parents take off one at a time I assume for food. Then about a week after the hatch they both disappeared for over an hour leaving the baby on its own. I thought this was odd since all the other nests always have one parent near. The next day I couldn’t see the chick anymore, but the nest closest to the first one now had a chick and two eggs still in the nest. One seagull from the first nest is still always near the nest as if it is waiting for its chick. The second nest still has the two unhatched eggs. Do you think the second nest parents realized their eggs were not hatching and stole the chick when its parents left? Although I’m not sure how they would have carried it.

    • As far as I know, gulls don’t steal other gulls’ chicks, though they might eat them. Not sure what’s going on there- the nest with unhatched chicks might just be a week behind the first.
      Could the chick simply have walked to the other nest?

      • No way the baby could walk. The nests are only100 feet apart but they are on 2 towers 30 feet high. It probably was just coincidence that the one baby disappeared one day and the other showed up the next day. I was just surprised the first couple left their newly hatched baby unattended for so long. They are the only parents of 6 to do this.

        I love this blog though. Thanks!

  25. HI Don
    I live in Plymouth UK not surprising we have a large gull population in the area..I have for the past 2 years been sort of guardian to baby gulls, the nest is on our rooftop and last and this year the baby has fell out of the nest and into our garden. Both parents know where it is and tell me so…every time I go out in the garden they start. I now have the one of adults follow me down the road to the shops, circling above me like a vulture.
    The other morning when leaving for work out the front of the house (baby in back) I walked to my car and low and behold whos there to see me off ….the adult sat on my car squawking away, i get in and it flys off. When returning home It must hear the car and circles above me again as I walk up the steps it swoops down.. This has now become a the norm…..even the baby if we leave the patio doors open wanders in goes up stairs and makes is self at home on the landing……Our cat doesnt bat an eye lid he just looks at it and turns away. The adult is such a character watches every move i make and isnt afraid at all…sites within 2 feed of me just looking at me ….

  26. Hi Don, thanks for this article which I found really interesting.

    Two sets of baby seagulls have just hatched on the roof below our apartment, and I’m really enjoying watching them (they’re so cute and fluffy!)

    I have a question that I’m hoping you can help with. There are the two sets of newborn baby gulls I mentioned, plus their parents, (one set on either side of the roof). But then there are also two slightly bigger baby gulls that live on the roof – they still seem very young and fluffly, and I haven’t seen them fly at all, but they keep away from the other nests and I haven’t seen them with parents yet (but obviously I don’t watch them 24/7 🙂

    Do you think they are the older kids of one of the parents? Or some babies of another set of parents, who just happen to have been born earlier than the tiny chicks (and I just keep missing their parents)?

    I’ve been trying to google if seagulls have two sets of chicks per “season”, as I can’t figure out who these older baby chicks are!

    Thanks in advance 🙂

    Claire

    • Hi Clare. They only have one brood per year. Last year’s babies might be around but they will be the size and shape of the parents, with darker plumage. So these other babies probables have parents you haven’t seen yet, I’m guessing.

      • Ah thanks Don. Yes, this morning I looked out and there seemed to be one parent near the two “random” chicks, so I wonder if they only have one parent and that’s why I hadn’t seen it as much. Thanks for your quick reply! Claire

    • Hi Claire, as soon as the chicks are old enough to keep themselves warm without the parent’s body heat, the parents leave them alone for quite a lot of the time. Remember that seagull chicks only feed 3-6 times per day, and a feed only takes seconds to happen.

  27. Hi Don, great article, I laughed out loud at parts of it!! Can I ask, where can I find out about seagull calls? I would love to find out what they are saying, especially the “BA BA BA BA” one, they are extremely comical 🙂 thanks

  28. Id just like to mention that not all seagull populations are booming.

    Here in the UK, herring gulls are considered a nuisance, because they’ve recently moved inland. People complain that there are too many of them. In fact, they have moved inland because their habitats are being destroyed, and their population has actually declined by 50%. People don’t realise this because of their increased visibility: because humans see them more often now that they are living among us, it gives the illusion that the number if seagulls is greater than it really is.

    For the record I love seagulls, and luckily for me my next door neighbour and opposite neighbour have nests on their roofs. Last night my mum rescued a chick that is trying to fly and had accidentally fallen down into the garden. She put it on the neighbour’s garage roof, and this morning it managed to fly back up to the main roof. It’s sibling came running over to greet it.

  29. Don, I have gulls here in middle earth England (genuinely I have developed flat hairy feet!) and they nested in a roof forty foot from what used to be my haven from the world… My beautiful back garden. I hate them … They were dive bombing my poor twelve year old dog and any person, myself included, who came to my garden to make sure we didn’t scale their walls… They punched holes in my polytunnel because they saw me take bags ( of gardening material) in there and they most recently saw us eating al fresco and mistaking my baby plants in pots as leftovers, proceeded to destroy them. However! And this is all props to you! I have suddenly been given some different aspects to them and have witnessed pretty much everything you described above but I was laughing at the ‘lap of victory’ and the contrasting/comparing their behaviour to ours in terms of in fighting and then pack mentality…. And the bit that genuinely made me LOL! was ‘shitebombing’!!!! Thanks so much and I only wish I’d read this sooner!

  30. Hi again, Don

    I’m pleased to report that our one-legged gull has turned up on our deck railing again screeching at us for food. It’s almost spring here, and we didn’t see him all winter. Would that be because he went off somewhere else, or because he has chicks now to feed and has to come and hit us up again?

    • Hi Pam- glad to hear your gull is back. I suspect your place is in or near its breeding territory. In the off season, he’s likely wandering at sea. I don’t know if your gulls are truly migratory- but it’s probably safe to assume their breeding territories break down in the off season.

  31. We have a gull living near by ( our house is on the beach)we rarely give it food but it seems to enjoy our company and often nestles down near us at dinner time, recently it came to us with a fish hook and line caught up in its Webb feet and beak, it was not difficult to catch him, like he wanted us to help! And we removed it all, he limped around and spent the night in our sheltered garden then flew off in the morning, hoping to see him tonight at dinner.

  32. I live on the south coast of the UK with many seagulls filling the skies! what strikes me about them, is that they seem to call to one another ALL of the time. I can’t think of another bird that is so persistently vocal! do they have a need to locate one another, when out to sea? it’s really bugging me! Many thanks for all the anecdotes!

  33. Wonderful commentary and stories. Very handsome most gulls. I watched a pair raising 2 chicks on the canvas roof of a small yacht moored in nearby bay.. in Tasmania, Australia. The babies just seemed to get weaker over a couple of weeks and eventually died. When I saw they were weakening, local wildlife experts I asked said the parents would look after them.
    I wonder.. should the babies have had access to the shore to forage for themselves? Was it too hot for them there? Did they need water? Were the parents too young to know what to give them? Now I’m thinking something else.. perhaps they were poisonned in some way.. by the food or by something on the boat.
    Another question.. Are Pacific gulls or Kelp gulls able to carry off goose eggs? There are domestic geese increasing in nos here. One quite exposed nest is losing its daily egg. We assume a cagey human is doing best to control the goose population, but could it be the big gulls? They breakfast on the (wild domestic) duck eggs a bit later into spring.

    • Hi- re your baby gulls- They don’t need access to shore until they’re fledged. Up until then it’s the parents who should provide all their food. I suspect you either had a local food shortage or inexperienced parents.
      Not sure if your gulls can carry off domestic goose eggs, but I suspect they would certainly try. Re cagey human- the best way to curb goose breeding is to addle the eggs, not remove them.

  34. Hi Don, i live in Seattle, WA. So this morning at 7am i awoke to extremely loud squawking appearing to be coming from my roof. I live in an apartment on the 2nd and top floor. When i got up and looked outside towards my roof, i saw maybe 30-40 gulls flying on and off the roof. I also heard something running on the roof. I’m just curious because this is the first time I’ve heard seagulls do this on my roof. Also, yesterday the maintenance guy clean the roof leaves and gutters. Then this morning i hear the gull commotion… Any ideas what’s happening? Rodents maybe? There were also Crows in the area. They kinda sounded like they were arguing with the gulls… But what do i know… Please help Don!

    • Hi Trace- in the city, when you hear that kind of ruckus, it’s usually somebody feeding them. As soon as someone starts throwing bread, say, you’ve got a huge, excited, and very noisy flock gathering. Alternately, it could have been a dog or cat up there- but they shouldn’t be getting too excited about that at this time of year.
      don

  35. I live in Squamish. We have seagulls everywhere. A night you can see flocks heading from inland, and upper Squamish river yo Howe Sound. I am courious why some travel in flocks and other just hang out indiviually.

  36. Greatly enjoying your article and the readers’ responses. Like Shawn above, we live in La Jolla — paradise for gulls as it is for humans. In addition to the general population all around us, we are able to observe one couple on the roof next to us. I do feel I am becoming able to distinguish their individual and choral cries, and even jump to my feet and run to a window when I sense — hear — that something is alarming the seagull neighbors next door or above us on our roof or in the air of the neighborhood. Last year we watched a chick on the roof next door learn to toddle, walk, run, hop, spread its wings and finally fly; come back from his (or her) days with his fellow hooligan teens on the beach to feed with his parents; and finally, not be allowed to land on the roof where his parents allow no other birds to rest. Two questions: is it true there is no way, visual or behavioral, we humans can tell gulls’ gender (apart from the moment of birth, which I have not seen)? I can’t tell our two apart, so we refer to them as Parental Units 1 and 2; their chick was Junior. I can see the Units at this moment from my living room chair and they seem to be assembling materials for a nest in the same place Junior was born last year, just out of our sight between two rooftop peaks; fingers crossed. Second question: Why do seagulls fight? They never seem to be seriously hurt, though the fights are frightening, and seem to exhaust the combatants more than damage them.

    • Hi- thanks very much for your comments. In gulls, the two sexes are hard to distinguish, though males are generally supposed to be larger than the females. Honestly I can only tell them apart when they’re mating. He’s the one on top. And why do they fight? For territory or food, generally.

  37. Thanks your instant response! I have read they have an extra cone in their eyes that allows them to see colors we can’t, and so to them their plumage is distinguishable while to us it is same old same old. In watching our couple, the only time I think I know which one is larger is when “he” is doing behavior I typecast as male — such as fighting, while the smaller, or at least less puffed up one, cowers nearby. But then sometimes the noncombatant joins in briefly! But they both do the care and feeding of Junior, right? They both fly off for food from time to time, right? By the way I think I have an answer to one of your readers’ questions. They usually face into the wind because it’s easier to take off that way. Also, it is my personal belief unfounded in any science that they are receiving blasts of information in the wind (this might explain why their beaks are open — when they are). Did you see that TV show about pigeons’ homing abilities? As I remember it was Canadian researchers. Anyway, pigeons apparently do have a kind of built-in GPS, but damaging their “GPS” was less of a hindrance to their finding their way home than damaging their sense of smell. If I remember correctly. Thanks again.

  38. Very well written and very interesting, they are fascinating creatures. I work on the Docks in Falmouth, Cornwall, England where the is a pretty impressive community of Gulls, doing all kinds of strange things throughout the day! I happened upon this article when trying to find out why I witnessed a pair of gulls rapidly bobbing their heads almost in unison standing side by side, it looked really odd.

    I am originally from the North of England and moved South 3 years ago, these intelligent creatures can sense new blood, only a week after arriving I was descended upon by a sizeable seagull as I strolled along the seafront in St Ives, innocently eating an ice cream, the bird really shocked me as with a flutter or large white wings right in my face my ice cream was knocked to the ground. Weirdly Gully didn’t pursue it any further as he flew away and my mint choc chip delight melted away into the pavement. I learnt quickly from that experience and always have my wits firmly about me when in the open air and vulnerable to attack. It has never happened since…I am sure because they recognise a “newbie” and those with their guard down. Thanks for the interesting and funny post!

    • Hi Jenny, we too have moved South from the Midlands to Looe in Cornwall. Apparently St Ives is a hot spot for gull attacks, but but we have witnessed it here in Looe too. I actually warn the tourists to watch their food if they are sitting outside or walking along eating it. The best way to avoid being dive-bombed, I have learnt, is to sit with your back against a building or high wall, so they cannot attack you from behind!! 🙂

      • Gulls are not the problem, tourists and outsiders are, gulls don’t leave their rubbish about or steal from us, I often hear about The Gulls being a problem and that they steal ice creams and pastys ,well, ask a local fisherman or farmer and he will laugh at you and say “just let them try”

  39. Hi,
    I live on the south coast of the U.K. and seagulls are part of life here but yesterday morning I witnessed something unique – that is unique to me because I’ve never seen anything like it before. We have an ageing caravan in our garden and I was woken up early by what I thought was someone trying to break in to the van. In fact it was a seagull. It had in its beak, a small apple and it was dropping the apple at one end of the caravan roof where it (the apple that is) proceeded to roll across. The seagull then flew to the other end of the roof to catch it. It repeated this whole process several times. If the apple fell off the roof the gull would swoop down to get it and continue the ‘game’. My question is, do seagulls play? Or was this a ‘should have gone to specsavers’ gull, mistaking an apple for something else? Whatever, it was fascinating to watch- even at 5am!

    • Hi- I haven’t seen anything written on play behaviour in gulls but it wouldn’t surprise me- other birds do. Was it dropping the apple from a distance? That’s a technique they use to crack shellfish, and it may have been trying to break the apple open.

  40. Hi Don. Thanks for the prompt reply. No, the gull wasn’t dropping the apple from a distance. It was simply placing it down , briefly watched it roll and then flying to the other end to catch it. I too thought about the technique for cracking shellfish but this seemed to me more like attention seeking behaviour. Haven’t seen anything like it since but will keep and ‘eagle’ eye out!

  41. Hello, Don,
    I live in Gloucester MA USA. We moved last year to a place across from some abandoned buildings, with a view downward to their flat roofs. We are new tothe seagull drama! There seem to be two main types of gulls here near the harbor. I call them blackwings and graywings. The blackwings are about 1/3 larger than the graywings. I am sorry that I cannot tell their species names.
    Last year grays nested within 20 feet of the blackwings. The blackwings three chicks raucously enjoined their parents to give up food. My husband saw a daddy F cough up a nine inch whole fish for them. The G’s three eggs were about two weeks behind the B’s eggs in hatching. Talk about the constant unrelenting noise. It was a grand year last year for gulls on the rooftops of Gloucester.
    Then one day, daddy G went fishing for more food for the chicks, leaving mommy G alone with the chicks. Daddy B returned a bit later. I could see him eyeing the G family with his head tilted to one side, as if considering what to do. Well, daddy B lunged at mommy G and a royal battle ensued. Daddy B outweighed mommy G by her own weight. He grabbed her by a wing and flung her off the 2 story roof then teturn to harry her chicks. Mommy G bravely returned to fend off daddy B several more times, receiving some vicious attacks by daddy B who hurt her wing so that it dragged a bit. The vocalizations were intense during this entire battle with the peeping of her chicks a constant background noise. Mommy G was recivering about 10 feet away from her chicks, when daddy B snatched G chick 1 and half kilied it, providing it to B chick 1 to eat. Mommy G was beside herself, squawking her heart out, but staying out of daddy B’s way. Next G chick 2 was killed and fed to B chick 2. Finally daddy killed the last G chick and ate a bit before giving the remains to his last chick. Mommy G dragged herself over to the now empty nest, which was nothing more than some dried plant material gathered a bit into a flat mound. She called, over and over for her chicks, going back and forth from her nest to the far corner away from the B family. After about 30 minutes, daddy G reappeared. He called out daddy B in some kind of gull challenge. Daddy B obligingly appeared and the two squared off, postured with necks extended and the most “fowl” language used to express anger and defiance.
    Then suddenly it was over. Daddies went back to their resoective nests. Mommy G returned to her nest and constant calling of her chicks, retreating to the far corner when daddy B strutted past. The G family stayed the remainder of the season, mommy G repairing her nest just to have daddy B rip it apart. Again and again and again.
    Fast forward to this year. This was not a good year for gulls. Yes, the B parents returned boldly to their nesting site again while the G parents tentatively returned to their sad site. Mommy G gathered a few beaksful of nest material which daddy B scattered reoeatedly. The G family finally gave up that nest site.
    Meanwhile mommy B built a nice nest and hunkered down for brooding. Weeks passed and there was no sign of chicks, much less eggs. The intermittent winter cold weather returned many times often with downpours of very cold rain. Could this have killed the chicks in the eggs? Other nesting G families on another roof brooded and brooded. Only three chicks from six nests were hatched.
    So mommy B gave up brooding and flew off to restock her body with food. She kept returned to the nest to poke at it and nestle her body down as if there were eggs. There were none. Family B returned to a faily search for food and random sittng onnthe nest. Then 4 weeks ago mommy B started brooding again. No eggs that I could see. She has not left it feed for about three weeks now. She sits there in the heat with her beak agape and ger tongue hanging out to one side. She seldom opens her eyes anymore and I doubt she could fly to get her own food. She appears to be much smaller than when she began her first brooding ths year. Daddy B dutifully continues to protect their nesting site. He is getting rather fat.
    I think she is dying. There is nothing I can do.
    Why doesn’t daddy B feed mommy B, or does it never work that way in gull life?
    Thanks for listening.

  42. hi Don , i have two babies in my back garden and i feed the mum and dad , i have noticed that the mum and dad are teasing the babies they come down and the babies chase her round garden and go again , should i feed the babies or leave them ?
    love the artical love sue

  43. Wow, great article!

    I’m on the west coast of Canada, and was lucky enough to have a nesting couple across the rooftop from me last year to observe these behaviors firsthand!

    This year, it’s a different couple on another rooftop. They seemed less experienced, but built a decent nest together. However, for the last week or so, there’s been no sign of the male bird. The female sits in the nest all the time, almost like she’s warming up the eggs but I don’t know that for sure. My concern is that she hasn’t been going on feeding runs (probably doesn’t want to expose the eggs to attack) even at night, and she’s beginning to look a little dazed and skinny.

    With no spouse to trade off duties with, what will happen to the poor mother seagull? And what if the eggs hatch? how will she manage to feed them?

    I wonder if my hubby and I should be sling-shotting food to her, just in case she’s depressed from losing her mate?

    Or whether we should just let nature take it’s course….

    • An update on the seagull that I thought had lost her mate…

      We slingshotted her some frozen salmon pieces, to which she responded with loud cawing. Unbeknownst to us, her eggs were literally a day away from hatching and she was protecting them, thinking the food sent her way might hurt them. But we were careful, and she figured out quickly that it was food being offered. She collected the salmon pieces quickly and took them to her nest, and settled down again.

      Her hubby was attracted by all her defensive cawing and returned within a few minutes to help her defend the nest. After some cawing exchange, he got the gist of what had happened – and glared at my hubby warning him to back off.

      We sent another salvo of food a few hours later, with the same cawing results (though she in particular accepted the food), us not understanding that they were being protective of the eggs. The husband would start cawing again every time hubby or I looked out the window at them. And against the crows who realized the seagulls were somehow getting preferential treatment!

      Then that evening, just before sundown, the eggs hatched, and there was much proud preening amongst the parents who totally calmed down.

      Next morning we could see the two tiny chicks in their nest and the parents regurgitating food to feed them. We sent another salvo of salmon that evening, and this time, the food was accepted graciously with much less cawing, quickly gathered up, and deposited in the nest. I’m assuming to feed mom. I was impressed that the hubby seagull didn’t take any for himself.

      We are so glad her mate is back in full force protecting the nest, and we even saw him coverup the little ones with his wings while his mate went for a much needed wing-stretch flight.

      I think we might continue to send them food unpredictably (to avoid dependence on us), esp. if the weather turns bad.

      The relationship between us and the seagulls seems a cordial, nod-if-I-see-you, arms-length, and we’d like to keep it that way for the sake of our human neighbors!

      • Hi- I do love a happy ending. But in the main I don’t recommend feeding gulls. They generally do just fine without our help- and anytime we feed gulls, we increase the likelihood of an unnatural increase in the gull population. Gulls are a major predator of less-common shorebirds. When we tip the scales in their favour, we’re really doing harm to the ecosystem.

  44. That’s good to know, Don, did not realize that they’re a predator of other birds.

    We’ll stop the feeding 🙂 and just observe from afar.

  45. So, all of these comments show a “revelation effect”. I would like to add my own response.
    I have had in my middle aged years , many experiences with both gulls and crows. In a few countries.
    The social nature and ability to be omnivores and attempt co-existance with humans and each other as avian sis absolutely wonderful to observe and partake in.

    During an unusual cold snap in Vancouver winter, a crow I have been trusted by was eating some offerings I provided and the seagull, ” Sammy” that would come within my reach to get food was injured .

    Mr crow took a nice big piece of the cooked salmon over to Sammy in the snow and had to hop skip because of the birth and girth in his beak, dropped it literally 3 inches in front of Sammy, let out a mild caw caw, and stood guard while Sammy ate it.

    This is a real story, and I have respect for all creatures on our planet!

    • Hi- that’s a very cool story. But I’m going to respectfully suggest that you not feed crows or gulls. When we feed them, we elevate their populations artificially. They in turn prey on less-versatile birds’ eggs and young.

  46. Loved your story, @Erogida! I’ve seen similar things in Victoria.

    The seagull pair that was nesting on the rooftop across from us vacated their nest after the kids were all grown up and knew how to fly & fish. They were truly awesome parents, doing exactly the right thing at the right time. And they didn’t teach the kids to beg us for food, neither did they rely on us for food at all!

    More recently, a hawk landed on the edge of our balcony, clutching a crow youngling – already dead. Crows circled noisily above, protesting the intruder/predator. But it seemed like the hawk was intent on enjoying his dinner. He started to de-feather his prey right there, belatedly realizing that I was watching him and not happy to see the carnage… then he flew off, still clutching his dinner in one claw.

    It was sad to hear & see the crows grieve after their young one.

  47. What an informative article – TY ! I have been observing Gulls for a long time and am fascinated by anything Avian. I found out that there is no such thing as a “seagull”. They are classified as “Gulls”. I once called a Vet to inquire about an injured one and used the term “Gull” – they could not understand until I finally said “seagull” – LOL. While I applaud everyone for caring about wildlife, I have to agree with Don about not feeding them. But if you feel the need to feed them (as many do) , please give them nutritional food. Feeding them bread/crackers can do more harm than good especially if they are very young. Waterfowl are especially susceptible to a condition called “Angel wing”. If they develop this, they will not be able to fly and it would be a sure death for them. I am also guilty about feeding Avians -but only injured ones with discretion. I took care of a Great Egret for 8 months – it had an injured leg. Great Egrets are Wading Birds – they need to wade in order to find food. I knew with and injured leg – it was able to wade. I called many wildlife rehab places but none were interested in helping me. They said no place wants to take on a bird who only eats fish because it is very costly. I took on the cost myself and purchased bulk spearing bait fish and the Great Egret eventually healed – though it was long tough road as when it was almost healed – the bird injured it again. I fed it the natural food it ate. It was still wild but learned to come like clockwork twice a day. I kept it alive through winter as it did not migrate due to its injury. It takes a lot of energy to migrate. My plan was to wean it off its feedings until Spring. His leg healed and then he started showing up sporadically. I knew he would be okay as the baitfish it eats would be coming soon.
    I also have taken care of injured Gulls. I have encountered gulls who had no use of both legs and could not fly. I managed to capture them and brought them to a vet who would put them down. Again, I do not encourage the feeding of gulls (seagulls) or anything avian, BUT if you must, please feed them good foods . Bread/Crackers is NOT one of them. if you want to help Wildlife – please research it first.

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