'I'll have what they're having' — seagulls like to get a human's recommendation before they steal their food, research shows

A seagull stealing a muffin
A seagull stealing a muffin.Getty Images
  • New research found that seagulls mimic human food choices, which is why they steal your food.

  • Research by the University of Sussex found gulls studied human behavior and applied the knowledge.

  • The researchers said it showed intelligence and helped the birds adapt to their environment.

Seagulls are infamous for their apparent appetite for grabbing beachgoers' food by surprise. But new research suggests that it is a sign of intelligence after scientists at a British university found that the birds mimic human food choices.

Researchers from the University of Sussex, England, studied gulls in Brighton, on the UK's south coast, to see how they took cues from human behavior and applied that knowledge — a process known as "stimulus enhancement," per a university press release.


The researchers tested their theory by positioning two chips packets—blue and green  — close to gulls at the popular Brighton seafront.

A human experimenter would then eat from a blue or green bag of chips. The study showed that the seagulls would watch the human and then often choose to eat from the corresponding chips packet near them.

"While we know that animals learn from each other, we rarely see animals learning from a totally different species when it comes to food preferences," said Paul Graham, a professor of neuroethology at the University of Sussex.

Graham said that the "relatively modern" behavior had helped the gulls adapt to their urban environment, and learning to interact with humans was a sign of intelligence.

He added that "gulls may be less likely to steal our food if we focus on reducing litter. That's because littering increases gulls' ability to learn about how our different food options and how they taste."

Read the original article on Business Insider