Students from the University of the West of England were in Bath earlier this week as part of an 18-month research project into gull behaviour.
The behavioural ecology and psychology students, in collaboration with the University of Middlesex, are mapping and tracking the behaviour of the urban gulls as they interact with their food sources, nesting sites – and their human neighbours.
The research is being supported by Bath & North East Somerset Council, as part of its Gull strategy. Councillor Martin Veal (Conservative, Bathavon North), Cabinet Member for Community Services, said: “This is a mutually-beneficial research project that comes at no cost to the Council and runs in parallel to our co-ordinated approach to the gull problem – which also includes reducing access to food sources, and communicating the importance of keeping the streets clear of litter and waste and not feeding the gulls.
“Understanding the behaviour of these urban gulls is key to controlling their numbers. There is very little existing research available on this subject and this will give us the opportunity to gather evidence at a scale that hasn’t been possible before, providing a clear steer on future interventions.”
The project is led by UWE Head of Psychology, Dr Chris Pawson, who said: “We’ve been observing the gulls’ behaviour, where they choose to nest, where they decide to nest alone rather than in colonies, and where they are getting their food from.
“Unsurprisingly Bath gulls seem to know when the pubs close and the optimal time and location for chips and other takeaway snacks.
“We’re also exploring how gulls adapt their behaviour according to their environment through comparative observations of gulls in Bath and those inhabiting a range of coastal locations. It is interesting that many urban gull nesting sites are relatively exposed, providing a significant potential for predation of the chicks.
“We’re also learning a lot about gull behaviour from studying which types of roof are preferred as nesting locations, and the contents of the nests.
“We found over 40 bones in one, some of which was from road kill but they were mostly takeaway chicken bones and pork ribs. The same nest also contained cable ties, rubber bands, human hair and plastic forks and spoons.”
Professor Tom Dickins, from Middlesex University added: “Through all of this data we hope to gain a sense of the gulls’ decisions: Where are they most likely to breed and nest? Where do they find it easiest to forage?
“How does this change across the year, across the day? In doing this we hope to see Bath as a gull does – a true bird’s eye view.”
Dr Pawson and Professor Dickins will collate their research findings later this year before beginning the next data collection phase during the next gull breeding season and then reporting their findings to the council in due course.