Behaviour 2019
The role of cognition in human-gull conflict
Neeltje J. Boogert, Madeleine Goumas , Laura A. Kelley. University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall, United Kingdom

Herring gulls are a common sight in coastal towns. Although they appear to be thriving, natural gull colonies in the UK have crashed and gulls are now protected by UK law. However, urban gulls are often perceived as a pest due to ‘stealing’ human food, defecating on property and nesting on roofs. This leads to regular human-gull conflict, which complicates conservation measures. We are investigating the cognitive processes underlying this conflict. Our research shows that herring gulls are highly perceptive of human cues: they are deterred from approaching human food when being stared at, and they are more likely to approach eating people from behind. They are also attracted to food items, but not objects, previously handled by people. Urban gulls can be approached more closely than rural gulls, which may be due to habituation, bolder gulls inhabiting cities, or urban selection against shyer individuals. Many people dislike gulls, often following a negative gull experience. However, such negative perceptions and experiences can be changed through education. By quantifying the cognitive processes underlying both gull and human behaviour, we hope to mitigate human-gull conflict.