Seagulls are a common sight along coastlines and beaches around the world. While they have a reputation for being loud, messy scavengers, these aquatic birds are fascinating creatures. Here are 12 interesting facts about seagulls that reveal their impressive abilities and behaviors.
Seagulls belong to the family Laridae and are a type of gull found near oceans and inland waterways. There are around 50 species of seagulls worldwide 1, with different sizes, markings, and behaviors.
These highly adaptable birds thrive in coastal habitats but have also learned to live alongside humans in urban environments. While some people see them as pests, seagulls play an important role as scavengers and predators in many ecosystems.
Learning more about seagulls provides insight into their lives as intelligent, resourceful birds that engage in complex social behaviors. Read on for 12 captivating facts about these misunderstood sea birds!
1. Seagulls Are Highly Intelligent
Seagulls demonstrate impressive intelligence in how they obtain food. They utilize tools and have advanced problem-solving skills. For example, seagulls drop shellfish onto rocks to crack them open and access the meat inside.
Some species have also been observed dropping bread into water to bait fish. When the fish swim up to eat the bread, the crafty gulls snatch them up. Seagulls even work together, with one bird distracting humans while another steals food.
Their intelligence gives them an edge when competing for resources. Seagulls continue to thrive around humans by exploiting new food opportunities.
2. They Have Excellent Memories
Seagulls can remember the faces of humans who have fed them before. Researchers have discovered that seagulls can recognize and remember certain people over several years.
Their strong memories help them return to reliable food sources day after day. Seagulls also remember where their nesting spots and favorite roosting areas are located.
This impressive recall helps seagulls survive in changing environments as they can relocate reliable food and shelter sites. Their keen memories serve them well as resourceful, adaptable birds.
3. Seagulls Are Highly Social
Seagulls live in large flocks and nest in dense colonies of up to several thousand birds. Their colonies provide safety in numbers from predators.
Seagulls communicate with various vocalizations and body language. For example, specific calls signal different levels of threat to the colony.
Mated pairs aggressively defend their nesting territories but otherwise cooperate with their colony mates. This complex social structure helps seagulls coordinate feeding, breeding, and rearing their chicks as a community.
4. They Are Excellent Fliers
With their long wings and lightweight bodies, seagulls are agile and graceful fliers. They are able to take off quickly, maneuver precisely, and hover in place using air currents.
Some species can reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour. Their excellent vision allows them to spot food while flying high above the water. Seagulls even catch prey mid-flight by plunging into the water.
Their aerial abilities give them an advantage when competing for food resources along the shoreline. Next time you see them flying, take a moment to appreciate their skill!
5. Seagulls Are Highly Vocal
Seagulls make a variety of distinct calls that communicate different meanings. Their loud, familiar squawking conveys alarm and aggression.
Softer mewing or chirping sounds are used between mates and chicks. Individual birds can even be identified by their unique vocalizations.
Researchers have identified over a dozen distinct seagull calls. Their vocal nature helps maintain social bonds and defend territories while also signaling food, threats, or other alerts as needed.
6. They Are Opportunistic Eaters
Seagulls have an omnivorous diet, eating anything from fish and insects to garbage and leftover food scraps scavenged from humans. They even swallow food whole when needed.
This varied diet allows them to thrive in many habitats. Seagulls scout for food while flying and will dive quickly to snatch anything edible they spot in the water, on land, or in the air.
Their opportunistic feeding habits are why they frequently gather wherever humans discard food waste.
7. Seagulls Drink Saltwater
Seagulls possess a special set of glands above their eyes that filter excess salt from the seawater they drink 2. This enables them to rehydrate at sea and travel long distances from land in search of food.
Most birds cannot consume saltwater, but seagulls’ bodies efficiently process both freshwater and seawater due to these specialized glands. Their ability to drink from the ocean gives seagulls an advantage when feeding far offshore.
8. They Bathe Frequently
Seagulls bathe in shallow waters to clean and waterproof their feathers. Their water-resistant feathers help insulate them from the cold ocean water.
By fluffing their feathers while bathing, seagulls spread oil secreted from a gland near their tail to maintain feathers’ waterproofing. This helps them stay buoyant and thermoregulated.
Seagulls can often be seen bathing communally in groups, dipping repeatedly into the water and flapping their wings. Bathing helps seagulls stay healthy and able to fly and feed efficiently.
9. Seagulls Have Unique Feet
A seagull’s webbed feet make them excellent swimmers. Webbing between their toes helps propel them through water but can collapse to walk on land.
They also have spiny protrusions on their toes that provide a grip to cling to slippery surfaces like rocks. These adaptations suit the seagull’s coastal lifestyle.
Their feet allow them to easily move between swimming, wading, and walking on both wet and dry terrain. Watch for their bright orange or yellow feet on your next beach visit!
10. They Migrate Long Distances
Some seagull species migrate thousands of miles each year. Northern gulls escape harsh winters by flying south to warmer areas with more abundant food.
Migrating seagulls travel over land and sea, resting on water and at inland sites along their journey. Their stamina and navigational abilities enable these long migrations.
Seagulls follow coastlines, rivers, and landforms during migration and return to the same breeding sites annually. Other seagull species are non-migratory and remain in the same region year-round.
11. Seagulls Live Over 15 Years
The average lifespan of a seagull is 8-20 years, though some exceptional individuals reach over 30 years old 3. Their longevity speaks to seagulls’ resilience and ability to utilize diverse food sources.
Seagulls exhibit high adult survival rates in the wild. Once seagulls survive the first year or two, they are likely to live a decade or more thanks to their skill and adaptability.
12. They Play Important Ecological Roles
As predators and scavengers, seagulls help control populations of small fish, insects, and rodents. They also keep shorelines clean by consuming waste and carrion.
Despite their tendency to steal food, seagulls fill an important niche in many coastal, marine, and urban habitats. Their diversity and abundance provide insights into ecosystem health.
Understanding more about seagulls provides a window into the interconnectedness of species within natural environments.
Seagulls are far more complex than most people realize. They lead fascinating lives as intelligent, social, and highly adaptable birds.
Observing seagulls reveals impressive skills from their manipulative tool use to their communicative calls. Appreciating their behaviors, from bathing to migration, provides a glimpse into their world.
Next time you encounter these aquatic birds, take a moment to reflect on their incredible abilities and importance in coastal ecosystems. Seagulls truly are more than just noisy pests!