Seagulls hold a quirky appeal for beachgoers from toddlers to adults. Actually, the generic term “seagull” doesn't take into account the diverse shapes, sizes and color schemes of gulls found throughout the world. Gull watchers might also be surprised at the objects and creatures that seem to attract the often-aggressive birds, sometimes in environments far from water.
Fishing Boat Scraps
Commercial and recreational fishing boats often attract a parade of gulls who cruise along the boat's stern wake or circle overhead, waiting for a convenient meal. Boat crews frequently toss fish carcass scraps, unused bait and even food ingredients into the water, with the gulls often swooping up the debris before it can sink out of sight. Gulls' lightning-fast fishing skills also enable them to grab small marine creatures stirred up by the boat's propeller.
Ravenous great black-backed gulls, herring gulls and ring-billed gulls frequently congregate in foul-smelling landfills, seemingly attracted to food and other wastes. The gulls' ranks swell dramatically during migration seasons. Although the landfills primarily serve as a food source, gulls also appear to use the unlikely destination for socializing. Unfortunately, gulls leave behind unhygienic feces, and can even carry diseases to landfill workers. When gulls transport their food elsewhere, surrounding areas see a rise in garbage deposits and fecal contamination.
Breeding Colony Predators
A fox, weasel or other predator who slinks into a gull breeding colony attracts airborne gulls from nearby and far-flung territories. Raucous gulls circle above the marauder's position, at times touching down near the predator before flying off again. While gulls whose nests are in danger might attack the intruder, other gulls seem apprehensive and timid, perhaps afraid the predator will mount a mass attack.
Gulls can gravitate to airborne prey, as demonstrated by silver gulls who cruise above Australia's Sydney Harbour Bridge during nighttime hours. Silver gulls consistently display this unconventional behavior, but their numbers increase when large groups of moths congregate around the bridge's bright lights. The opportunistic silver gulls swoop and dive through this easy-to-grab snack, which supplements their regular meals of insects gathered at dusk near other lights and bodies of water.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds: A Second Look at "Seagulls"
- New England Seabirds: Identification Tips: Interaction With Boats
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation: Nuisance Gulls
- Stanford University: Gulls Are Attracted to Their Predators
- Australian Museum: Birds at Night on the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Based in North Carolina, Felicia Greene has written professionally since 1986. Greene edited sailing-related newsletters and designed marketing programs for the New Bern, N.C. "Sun Journal" and New Bern Habitat ReStore. She earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Baltimore.