Seagulls are infamous for their apparent appetite for grabbing beachgoers’ food by surprise. But new research suggests that it is a sign of intelligence after scientists at a British university found that the birds mimic human food choices.
Researchers from the University of Sussex, England, studied gulls in Brighton, on the UK’s south coast, to see how they took cues from human behavior and applied that knowledge — a process known as “stimulus enhancement,” per a university press release.
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The researchers tested their theory by positioning two chips packets–blue and green — close to gulls at the popular Brighton seafront.
A human experimenter would then eat from a blue or green bag of chips. Study showed seagulls watched the humans and would then choose the chips near the person.
“While animals are known to learn from one another, it is rare that we see them learning food preferences from animals of a completely different species,” explained Paul Graham, professor of Neuroethology, University of Sussex.
Graham said that the “relatively modern” behavior had helped the gulls adapt to their urban environment, and learning to interact with humans was a sign of intelligence.
He added that “gulls may be less likely to steal our food if we focus on reducing litter. That’s because littering increases gulls’ ability to learn about how our different food options and how they taste.”