They are a common sight at the beach, marina or ferry, but you can also spot them in inland shopping centres, parks and landfills. They are seagulls, and wherever you can find food they like to eat, you can find them, too. Niki Price, writing for Oregon Coast Today, calls seagulls "gregarious, opportunistic and omnivorous to the core." Whether you find them amusing or annoying, seagulls are very well-adapted to live alongside humans.
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Gulls belong to the biological family called Laridae, along with terns and auks. Most species of seagull have the scientific species name "Larus," though a few have the species name Leucophaeus. Among the most common and most widespread species is the herring gull, which the Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls "the quintessential basic 'seagull.'" The herring gull is "the characteristic gull of the North Atlantic," according to Cornell, found across North America.
Diet and Habitat
How can an animal so closely associated with the sea, as its nickname suggests, live inland? Ornithologist Wayne Hoffman told Price that gulls are "generalists that can eat all sorts of things: garbage, bugs, fish, sea stars and the young and eggs of other sea birds." They once followed commercial fishing boats and lived exclusively near the coasts, but the redirection of commercial fish wastes pushed large numbers of them to expand their habitat, explains the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
The ease with which seagulls have learnt to thrive in the human world makes them excellent examples of natural principles of ecological adaptation. Having traditionally nested on cliffs, they can easily nest on buildings, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of birds. They live at landfills in huge numbers, but they are perfectly willing to snatch scraps from streets and picnics.
Some species of gull migrate, including the Western gull, but most species are good flyers. They have long wings in relation to their bodies and they are efficient gliders, often "hanging" on air currents. They tend to be protective of their young, which sometimes brings them into conflict with humans. Young gulls are very vulnerable at first, and their parents may actually "dive bomb" perceived threats to the nest, warns the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Seagulls have proven of value to scientists outside the realm of ornithology, the study of birds. Medical researchers have theorised that these long-distance flyers can help explain the movement of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and help find ways to combat these "super bugs." Science Daily reports one study by Portuguese scientists which found that such highly resistant microbes in 10 per cent of their sample of gulls. In addition, ecologists use blood samples from gulls to test the lasting effects of oil spills, reports Dave Mosher for MSNBC Science.
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- Oregon Coast Today; Gull Talk: Mascot or Menace? Niki Price; 2011
- The Internet Bird Collection: Gulls (Laridae)
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds: Herring Gull
- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Gulls and Man; August 13, 2007
- BBC News; Seagull Becomes Crisp Shoplifter; July 20, 2007
- Science Daily; Seagulls Harbor Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria; September 22, 2010