Questions about Seagulls
Frequently Asked Questions

Question 1 What do you call a group of seagulls?
Birds in general are referred to as a flight (in the air) and a flock (on the ground). However, seagulls, when they are on the ground are referred to as a “colony.” For more information about what different types of animal congregations are called, go to USGC Common Questions. In case you're interested, a female gull is called a hen, a male gull is called a cock and a newborn gull is called a chick.

Question 2 Do seagulls fly in a “V” formation like geese?
Yes, seagulls do indeed fly in V formations, although typically, only when migrating. I have never personally seen seagulls fly in a “V” formation. I have seen them fly in large flocks, but never in formation. I have however, received e-mails from individuals on both coasts of the U.S., Canada, Scotland, U.K., and New Zealand, who have had the pleasure of watching gulls fly in a “V” formation.

Question 3 Why do seagulls gather high in the air and fly in circles?
Gulls like to float on the air currents so that they can exert as little energy as possible. They will find an updraft, and stay with it. Seagull vision is very keen and they can see fish below the water even at high altitudes. Sometimes they circle at high altitudes while they wait for a school of fish to come close to surface where they are easy to catch.

Question 4 How fast do gulls fly?
According to a Stanford research team who investigated how fast birds in general fly; “For example, a gull whose most efficient loiter airspeed was 22 mph (35 kph) could fly at anything between 15 and 28 mph (24 and 45 kph) without increasing its metabolic rate more than 15 percent.”

Stanford University Report

Question 5 Why do seagulls often stand on one leg?
You have probably noticed that almost all species of birds will stand on one leg, especially when they are resting. Here's the reason: Bird's legs have a unique system of blood veins in their legs called “rete mirabile” (pronounced ree-tee mee-rah-bi-lay) that minimizes heat loss. Here is how it works: The arteries that transport the warm blood from the heart into the legs lie in direct contact with the veins that return colder blood back to the bird's heart. The warm blood in the arteries therefore warms the cooler blood in the veins. By standing on one leg, and pulling the other leg up against the warmth of its body, a bird can reduce by up to half, the amount of heat lost through its legs. In short, they stand on one leg to warm up a little bit.

Question 6 What do seagulls eat?
The short answer is: just about anything. The long answer is: small fish, crustacea, snails and marine worms. They also like to eat insects, spiders, small eggs, and small berries. Large gulls, such as the Glaucous–Winged Gull of the Pacific northwest, will eat small birds, small mammals, and invertebrates. They also enjoy eating the refuse from dumps, trash cans, and parking lots (especially the parking lot of a fast food restaurant).

Question 7 Where do seagulls sleep?
Gulls sleep in a place that they feel is safe, like a rocky cliff, or shoreline where there is no human activity. They like to bed down for the night in an area where they will not be disturbed. If they need to sleep out in the open, such as on a pier, or on the shore, they will sleep around other gulls or birds who will warn them of impending danger. They tend to avoid the sleeping area until they are ready to sleep. They are very clever about keeping those areas hidden. They know the areas that human do not frequent, and that is what they like. A clearing with tall grass, an abandoned building, sand dunes, or rocky (or isloated) shorlines are some of their favorite sleeping places. In towns or cities, they prefer the tops of buildings where they are out of sight of humans. The Bonaparte's Gull has been seen roosting in trees. I have seen flocks of gulls sleeping on the surface of the ocean (in calm weather) many miles out to sea.

Question 8 Why do you never see baby seagulls?
Gulls are very protective of their newborns. Newborn gulls do not leave the nest (or the immediate area) until they are able to fly and find their own food. Until the newborn is able to fly, the parents will feed the newborn. The young gulls grow quickly, and by the time they leave the nest, they are almost the size of an adult gull. They best way to distinguish if a gull was born recently is by the color of its feathers. Almost all newborn gulls have brown feathers covering their entire bodies. It is quite possible that you have seen a young gull (also referred to as a juvenile) who recently left its nest, you simply did not realize it.

Question 9 Can seagulls drink sea water?
Yes they can. Gulls have a special pair of glands right above their eyes, that are specifically designed to flush the salt from their systems through openings in the bill. This enables the gull to spend days out at sea without needing to come back to shore just to get a drink of fresh water.

Question 10 Why do sea gulls fly so close to the surface of the sea when off shore? To me it looks like they gain speed doing this daring maneuver as I observed while travelling at speed on a vessel. If you can you elaborate that would be great.
There is in aerodynamics, a phenomenon called “Ground Effect.” (The effect of added aerodynamic buoyancy produced by a cushion of air below a vehicle moving close to the ground.) It is where the air under a wing is being squeezed between the wing and the ground. The height of the ground effect depends on the size of the wing. So seagulls glide close to the surface because it is easier to glide there. Pelicans use ground effect, as do other sea birds.

Question 11 Why do seagulls face the same direction when they're on the ground?
When a gull is on the ground, it likes to face into the wind to provide a quick take off. It takes far less space and time to get airborne if they are already facing into the wind. Seagulls also feel far safer in a flock than being alone when they are on the ground. That is why you usually see them standing (or sitting) in a group.

Question 12 Do seagulls see in black and white or color?
Gulls actually do see in color. However, they don't see color the way that humans do. Gulls have more “cones” in their eyes than humans. Humans basically have 3 types of cones that allow our brains to see 3 primary colors, Red, Green, and Blue. Our brains are able to interpret all the mixing of the color frequencies that exist around those 3 primary colors. Gulls have 4 cones. The fourth cone allows them to see infrared color, something that humans cannot see. When a seagull looks at the sky, it does not see the color blue like we do, it sees a violet sky. Birds in general see more colors than humans do. We can look at a gull and not be able to tell if it is a male or a female. A gull however, sees more coloring in a male gull, and the difference between male and female is obvious to them.

Question 13 How intelligent are seagulls?
Determining “intelligence” in a seagull is difficult because we tend to compare everything with human intelligence. We do know that seagulls are very smart and clever. I have seen gulls standing in a field stomping their feet in order to bring the worms to the surface. That takes both intelligence and the ability to communicate to accomplish. They also learned that in order to crack open clams and mollusks, they needed to drop them from a certain height onto a large hard flat material (like concrete) to crack them open. Scientists are still studying just how intelligent different species of birds are, and the results seem to be that birds are smarter than we have thought. Cambridge University and McGill University in Montreal performed many studies regarding intelligence levels of different species of birds and continue to do so. An IQ level has not yet been established, but it would not surprise me if it was fairly high, especially amongst seagulls.

Question 14 How much food does a seagull eat everyday?
An adult gull will consume approximately 20% of its body weight every day in food. For example, an adult Herring Gull weighs approximately 2lb 12 oz (44 oz or 1250g). It would need to consume 8.8 oz (250g) of food each day.

Question 15 How much weight can a seagull carry?
To my knowledge, no one has performed any experiments as to how much weight a seagull can carry. As a general rule, all birds can lift and carry up to half of their body weight. The exception are the raptors and birds of prey which can lift and carry 2-3 times their own weight. The problem that a seagull has is that it has webbed feet which hinders its ability carry items. A gull is limited to what it can carry in its beak. They easily lift and carry clams which weigh between .5 - .8 kilograms in their beaks. It could be possible for a large gull to carry 1 kilogram in its beak for a short distance.

Question 16 How do I get rid of seagulls?
Do you have a seagull infestation problem? Before you take out your shotgun and shoot every seagull in sight, you should be aware that seagulls are protected by wildlife conservation laws in many countries. The U.S., Canada, and the U.K. all have laws that protect seagulls. Be aware that harming, killing, or even destroying their nests will get you into serious trouble. We really don't want that to happen. There are a number of legal ways to get rid of seagulls. Here are some of the ones that work most effectively.

Bird spikes: One of the few ways to keep the gulls off your roof, or dock pilings, is by installing bird spikes which prevents them from landing. You would need to install them on the roof peaks which are a place that gulls like to land on. The large warehouse style hardware stores sell bird spikes. You can also purchase them online from many vendors. They cost about $50.00 for a 20 foot strip. It's about the only thing that works well on a roof. If you make it difficult for the gulls to land, they will go somewhere else.

Bird wires: Bird wires are long metal wires that have springs placed on each end. When the seagulls sit on them, the springs make the wire seem unstable, and the gulls quickly leave. Bird Wire is a very versatile bird control system but requires special components and brackets to enable it to be fitted to most surfaces. You can web search “bird wire” to find companies that sell the wire and the brackets.

Pointed Caps: One effective way to keep gulls off pier pilings is by installing pointed caps. This removes the landing space on the piling and at the same time, is aesthetically pleasing to look at.

Bird Nets: The bird net is designed to cover larger areas such as the entire roof. If installed correctly, it will not affect the look of the building because most bird nets are made to be unnoticeable from a distance. Up close, you will still be able to see them. If you choose to use bird netting, the 75mm mesh size made from strong synthetic materials, will probably work the best for seagulls. You can web search “bird net” to find companies that sell the netting and the support brackets.

Nest Removal: Do not do this yourself. Only licensed companies are allowed by law to relocate seagull nests. These companies have the necessary permits and licenses and these professionals know how to complete this task properly.

Prevention: While this does not always work, prevention can sometimes be the best way to keep seagulls away. You can do this by keeping your grounds clean of debris and garbage. Gulls are scavengers that are looking for an easy meal. Don't let them find free food in your yard.

Electrical track or tape: Electric track or tape is a bird deterrent system that is low profile (hard to see from the ground) deterrent that is used to prevent birds from landing or nesting in (or on) the areas where you don't want them. What this system is, is a unique electrically charged track or tape that gives birds a mild electrical shock when they land on the tracks surface. The shock is small and will not harm the birds, but it will condition them to stay away from the area that you don't want them. These systems are not cheap and are generally used as a last resort.

Fluttering Ribbons: Hang nylon string between tall piles and have hang long (approx. 3 feet or 1 meter) ribbons from the string. The ribbons will flutter in the wind over the dock. This has worked very well for many people, although the ribbons have a limited life (1 year if they're nylon). As far as we can tell, the color of the tape/ribbon does not seem to matter very much. The gulls do not like the movement of the ribbons in the wind and tend to avoid the immediate area. Nylon ribbon in various widths can be purchased at fabric and craft stores.

Other: There are very few things that seagulls fear. What they do fear however; includes eagles, hawks, falcons, ospreys, dogs, and little boys with sling shots (please don't ask how I know this; it will only embarrass my parents). I have seen seagulls resting on top of plastic owls, so I know those don't work. It is against the law to shoot seagulls and they seem to be quite aware of this fact. I have never tested ultra-sonic devices, and the “experts” are divided as to whether or not they even work.


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