Plymouth scientists ask public to stare at seagulls for new study

A team of scientists at the University of Plymouth has enlisted the help of the public - to stare seagulls in the eye.

Researchers want to find out how the birds respond when stared at for a designated period of time.

The year-long Gull’s Eye Project was launched at the Sidmouth Science Festival earlier this month, and will accept submissions until October next year.

Scientists want to find out how the birds will respond. Credit: PA

Ecologists say the birds’ responses - like if they stare back or fly away - might indicate their perception of risk.

We aim to find out whether response to eye contact might indicate a gull’s perception of the riskiness of their environment. We will test this in two ways. First, we will see if they fly away more often in conditions and locations that would be naturally risky for gulls. And second, we will run a parallel study using established methods to measure gull risk sensitivity in the areas of sightings.

Project description

“If these correlate to response to eye contact, you will have helped us develop a new method to evaluate environments from the gull's own perspective," the description continued.

“This will enable us to use citizen science to monitor gulls on a large spatial and temporal scale, which may help to understand regional population declines.”

Members of the public are asked to record their findings via an app, which the scientists will collate over the next 12 months.

Participants are asked to remain 3-4 metres from the gull and maintain eye contact for up to five seconds.

Last year, researchers at the University of Exeter suggested staring at the birds might deter them from attempting to steal food.

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