A pleasant meal beside a scenic body of water can quickly turn into an Alfred Hitchcock movie if you’re not careful. Seagulls are notorious for strolling right up to people and stealing their lunches. But the good news is you might be able to battle this avian crime wave with a simple tool: your eyes.
Researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK wanted to know if staring at seagulls might dissuade them from abducting your dinner, so they headed to coastal towns in Cornwall.
The team put a bag of chips (that’s fries for us US folks) on the ground and monitored how long it took the gulls to approach the food. “On average, gulls took 21 seconds longer to approach the food with a human staring at them,” the university said in a release on Tuesday.
The researchers initially tried to test 74 herring gulls, but most of them weren’t interested in sticking around or stealing food, so only 19 gulls were usable for the study.
“Gulls are often seen as aggressive and willing to take food from humans, so it was interesting to find that most wouldn’t even come near during our tests,” said Madeleine Goumas, lead author of the study Herring gulls respond to human gaze direction, published in the journal Biology Letters.
The researchers found that individual gulls behaved very differently from each other. Goumas suggested “a couple of very bold gulls might ruin the reputation of the rest.”
The study had a small sample size, so your gull-staring mileage may vary. It’s worth a shot, though. If you want to protect your food and still enjoy your time at the seaside, then it may just be a matter of playing stare down with the local birds.