Seagulls consist of over 50 species of gulls known for their intelligence and adaptability. They also have an average lifespan of 10 to 20 years and form colonies comprising a few pairs or a few thousand birds. Understanding these interesting seagull facts helps us appreciate their ecological role and unique characteristics.
Did you know that the name "seagull" is a misnomer? While people often use "seagull' to describe any species found near the coast, it does not fully capture these birds' diversity and habitats. Not all gulls live by the seaside, so the term 'seagull' is not an accurate descriptor for all gulls.
Ornithologists and scientists generally use the term 'gull' instead of "seagull" to refer to the over 50 species of gulls.
Some gulls who live away from the sea include the ring-billed gull. Referring to these birds as 'gulls' corrects a common misidentification and acknowledges the diversity within this group.
Over 50 species of gulls belong to the Laridae family. They live in various environments around the world. Some examples include the Black-legged Kittiwake2 (Rissa tridactyla), Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea), and Grey Gull (Leucophaeus modestus).
The Little Gull (Larus minutus) is the smallest seagull species, measuring only 12 inches, while the largest seagull species is the Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), which can stretch up to 31 inches. Some gulls travel thousands of miles annually, while some stay in one place all year.
One fact about gulls is that gulls' wings are designed for flapping and gliding, with a long and slender shape that varies in size across species. Little Gulls have a wingspan of 11.5 inches, while the Great Black-backed Gull spreads its wings to 61 inches.
Moreover, the broad wings of gulls have a high aspect ratio, referring to the proportion of the length of the wing to its breadth. This design allows gulls to use air currents and thermal columns, enabling them to travel long distances without depleting their energy reserves.
Additionally, gulls can hover, fly backward, and perform rapid shifts in direction, which help them avoid predators or catch prey during a feeding frenzy.
One of the most incredible abilities of gulls is catching food mid-flight, demonstrating their precision and agility. Whether gliding over the ocean or navigating urban airspace, gulls reveal the beauty and versatility of flight.
Gulls are also intelligent birds that can mimic sounds. (They are also smart enough to use bread crumbs to attract fish.) For instance, the European Herring Gull species can imitate human speech, other bird calls, and even artificial noises.
Mimicry helps gulls scare off potential threats by copying the sound of a dangerous predator. Moreover, it allows gulls to communicate with other birds in the colony since each sound and tone has a specific meaning. Gulls also use this ability to communicate their status, attract a mate, or warn others of danger.
Another interesting fact about seagulls is that they can also detect food from three miles away due to their evolved survival strategies over generations. For example, gulls' olfactory system features Jacobson's organs, which contain intricate nerve endings that enable them to detect various odor molecules.
Each scent triggers a unique nerve, forming a distinct "scent map" that guides the gull to its food. This mechanism works like a personal GPS, directing the bird to a fish just below the ocean's surface or a leftover sandwich in a city park.
During the nesting season, the gulls' sense of smell becomes even more acute because they need to feed themselves and their chicks. Their advanced olfactory abilities help them locate sufficient food to ensure the survival of their offspring.
Before finishing the article, did you know that Salt Lake City, Utah, honors the seagull for helping the Mormon settlers deal with a cricket infestation? In honor of the so-called "Miracle of the Gulls," the city has built a 50-meter granite column with two bronze birds.
Gulls observe kleptoparasitic behavior, which involves stealing food from other birds. They often pester birds like puffins, terns, and other seagulls until they drop their meals, which the seagulls then quickly swoop in to grab1. This behavior is typical among seagulls, a crafty skill in the bird world.
Gulls steal food from humans. A seagull might steal food from people on beaches, picnic areas, and outdoor dining spots. Urban seagulls sometimes work in pairs to carry out intelligent heists. One seagull will distract the human, while the other takes the food.
Seagulls can eat nearly anything because their stomachs have strong acids corrosive enough to break down a wide range of foods. They can consume everything from fresh fish and tiny invertebrates to insects and garbage. Curiously, they can even drink salt water.
In urban areas, seagulls often forage in trash cans. Along coastal regions, they display scavenger and predator behaviors. Their digestive system also allows them to thrive in polluted areas that might threaten other species.
Gulls form monogamous pairs that last a lifetime, displaying a series of calls and behaviors to attract potential partners. Once bonded, these pairs remain together, raising their offspring jointly.
Moreover, gulls live up to 20 years in the wild; they can thrive in different environments, such as congested urban areas, peaceful inland sites, or their favorite coastal regions. Some gulls have lived up to 49 years. Gulls also hone their abilities as they age, becoming even more skilled survivors.
Next on our gull facts list: Gulls practice what experts call 'brood defense,' where mother and father gull work together to protect young birds by making loud calls and physical displays to ward off predators.
The defense mechanism begins with a distinct, loud call as a warning. If the intruder fails to retreat, the gulls change tactics and swoop to intimidate rather than harm the intruder. Interestingly, this protective behavior is typical among breeding colonies; they work together to protect nursery flocks, where young birds live to learn vital survival skills while a few adult males watch over them.
As their chicks mature and become more vulnerable to predators, the gull parents increase their protective measures.
Gulls have established a widespread presence in cities, countryside, beaches, and tundras. As a result, gull populations are stable; the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified most species as being of "Least Concern."
However, one gull, the Black-legged Kittiwake2, needs help maintaining its population. The IUCN has classified this species as "Vulnerable" due to overfishing, which has reduced their food sources. Climate change has also affected their breeding patterns and habitats.
While not all gulls face the same challenges as the Kittiwake2, their plight reminds us that these birds also need protection from environmental changes.
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Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with S.
Pierotti, R., & Annett, C. A. (1991). Diet choice in the herring gull: Constraints imposed by reproductive and ecological factors. Ecology, 72(1), 319-328.
Coulson, J. C. (2011). The Kittiwake. London: T & AD Poyser.