Seagulls Are Fascinating – But Don’t Feed Them

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The breathtaking South Carolina shoreline is home to hundreds of species of birds. But it's the gulls that may get the most attention.

Seagulls are found around the oceans worldwide, except for some islands in the central Pacific Ocean and a few areas in Southeast Asia — although the term “seagull” can be misleading, as gulls often live inland.

South Carolina has recorded the presence of 13 species of gulls within its borders, and the Myrtle Beach area is home to several species of gull, including the laughing gull, the ring-billed gull and the ubiquitous herring gull.

Loud and omnipresent, seagulls are spectacular flyers, performing seemingly impossible aeronautic feats as they maneuver their wings to take advantage of every shift in wind and air currents. Most gulls belong to the Larus family, from the Greek word meaning “ravenous sea bird.” They could not be more aptly named. Seagulls will eat almost anything, including invertebrates, small fish and human food waste. They have been known to drop shellfish from a height to break their shells so they can be devoured. Gulls are also critical to seaside ecosystems, as they are the scavengers of the shore. They are so good at scavenging, they can keep beaches and other seaside areas free of decaying sea life.

However, one thing gulls should not eat is food from humans, whether intentional or not. Gulls will congregate around dumpsters and other places where trash accumulates so they can eat scraps and other edibles. But this creates a big, loud nuisance, and a potentially dangerous one. While gulls will generally leave people well alone, they have learned that humans can be a source of food, and they are not above taking it straight off your picnic blanket or even out of your hand.

Gulls are not aggressive toward people, but they can bite if they can't tell the difference between a human finger and a bit of food that human may be holding out for them.  It's best to avoid this scenario by not feeding the gulls at all. In fact, try not to leave food out at the beach or elsewhere so it doesn't attract these bold birds thinking they can steal a chicken leg or potato chip.
In some places, seagulls can become such a nuisance that dogs are employed to chase them away. They are smart birds, and are fun to watch, but it's best to not interact with them.

(posted 5/5/14)