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Urban herring gulls use human behavioural cues to locate food

Citation

Goumas, Madeleine; Boogert, Neeltje; Kelley, Laura (2020), Urban herring gulls use human behavioural cues to locate food, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.bnzs7h469

Abstract

While many animals are negatively affected by urbanisation, some species appear to thrive in urban environments. Herring gulls (Larus argentatus) are commonly found in urban areas and often scavenge food discarded by humans. Despite increasing interactions between humans and gulls, little is known about the cognitive underpinnings of urban gull behaviour and to what extent they use human behavioural cues when making foraging decisions. We investigated whether gulls are more attracted to anthropogenic items when they have been handled by a human. We first presented free-living gulls with two identical food objects, one of which was handled, and found that gulls preferentially pecked at the handled food object. We then tested whether gulls’ attraction to human-handled objects generalises to non-food items by presenting a new sample of gulls with two non-food objects, where, again, only one was handled. While similar numbers of gulls approached food and non-food objects in both experiments, they did not peck at handled non-food objects above chance levels. These results suggest that urban gulls generally show low levels of neophobia, but that they use human handling as a cue specifically in the context of food. These behaviours may contribute to gulls’ successful exploitation of urban environments.