Breaking news from a park bench in the United Kingdom: you can scare seagulls away from your chips by making fierce eye contact with them.
That’s the conclusion Exeter University researcher Madeleine Goumas and her team reached in a study published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters on Tuesday.
The findings could revolutionize your next visit to the beach — if the science holds up.
“We found that human gaze direction significantly affected gulls’ latency to approach the food,” Goumas wrote in her paper. “Gulls took less time to approach when the experimenter was facing away versus looking directly at them.”
In other words, seagulls really do try to snatch your food when you’re not looking.
“This demonstrates that gulls use behavioural cues from humans when making foraging decisions in urban environments, and that they find human gaze averse,” Goumas wrote.
However, don’t expect the stink eye (or the evil eye) to work against every one of nature’s feather-brained scavengers. The study notes that seagull responses can vary from one individual to another.
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It’s also worth noting that researchers based their work on only a few breadcrumbs of data — or 27, to be exact. That’s how many birds they lured into their cursory test, although only 19 of them reacted to both the stare-down and look-away methods.
“We attempted to test 74 herring gulls,” Goumas wrote. “Only 27 of these (36%) initiated the start of at least one trial.”
Perhaps the better way to repel a seagull is to try researching it.
Goumas conducted her tests using open bags of chips set up at arms’ length from her position. She conducted all of her tests in the coastal towns of Cornwall, a county in southwestern England.
“For the most part the gulls were wary of me when I was watching them, but there were a few individuals that were quick to approach even when I was looking at them,” Goumas told The Guardian.
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She added that gulls appear to prefer sneaking up on people so they can snatch food from behind.
“People can take steps to prevent it,” she said. “When you eat, being against a wall that blocks a gull’s access from behind, or just keeping an eye out, being more vigilant, reduces your chances of having your food taken.”
Goumas suggests that her research might help reduce human-gull interactions in the future and — perhaps — prevent thousands of food-related crimes.