Seagulls are highly opportunistic omnivores that eat fish, crustaceans, mollusks, reptiles, insects, and many other foods. Most gull species enjoy diverse diets both inland and at sea.
As many of the gull species are difficult to tell apart it is common for them to be described as a “seagull”.
Are Seagulls Scavengers?
Yes, seagulls are known to scavenge food but they are also effective hunters. They will hunt fish, insects, rabbits, rats, reptiles, and amphibians on their own.
When scavenging, seagulls will eat pretty much anything, from chips to fruit to processed foods.
Unfortunately, seagulls also eat plastic as they consume food that is wrapped or partially wrapped in plastic and may be attracted by the colors of plastic when searching for food.
Seagulls Natural Diet
When seagulls hunt, they tend to forage on the water’s surface rather than dive deeply into the water as other sea birds often do.
The natural diet of gulls in coastal areas includes:
- Fish such as anchovies, herring, mackerel, sardines
- Crabs and other crustaceans
- Clams and other mollusks
- Rodents and other small mammals
- Reptiles and amphibians
- Small birds
- Carrion (dead animals)
- Seeds, nuts, and fruit
The specific diet depends on the species of gull being discussed, their geographic location, and the season.
Seagulls’ diets change seasonally. For example, breeding gulls will eat more fish while non-breeding gulls will eat a range of organisms and waste.
Seagulls Urban Diet
Seagulls that live closer to urban environments have a slightly different diet to those living along the coast and at sea.
They have been found to consume considerably less fish and other marine prey compared to gulls living in natural colonies.
Seagulls in urban environments frequently use refuse tips as foraging habitats. The diet of seagulls in urban environments includes:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Pigeons and other urban birds
- Bread, chips, and other starchy foods
- Rats and other rodents
When presented with the option, urban herring gulls seem to prefer food that has been handled by humans.
Unfortunately, human food such as chips, sandwiches, and processed foods are a poor substitute for a gull’s natural diet.
How Much Do Seagulls Eat?
Adult gulls will consume one-fifth of their body weight in food every day.
That works out to be between 5-10 oz of food, and if the food in one area becomes scarce, they will travel to locations with more food availability.
Unique Feeding Habits
Seagulls have developed a few unique feeding habits that help them to hunt and forage for food:
1. Specialist Jaw
Gulls have unhinged jaws that allow them to swallow large prey items whole.
They work together and will feed in flocks to increase individual success in certain situations such as when targeting a school of fish.
Flocks may also stamp their feet (called foot paddling) on grassland to encourage earthworms to come to the surface.
3. Breaking Open Shellfish
When gulls such as Herring Gulls find shellfish they will drop them from a height to break them open.
Once cracked open, the seagull is able to eat the mollusk.
4. Excellent Eyesight
Gulls have excellent eyesight and sense of smell which allows them to look for meals when flying high above the ground.
Unlike most birds, seagulls’ eyes can move within their sockets too which helps them search for food sources. When they spot something, they will swoop down quickly and take the food.
5. Highly Opportunistic Feeders
Seagulls are known to make the most of situations.
For example, when plows are used to upturn soil on farms, seagulls will follow along to look for worms and other food in the soil.
Is There Anything Seagulls Can’t Eat?
Although seagulls are not fussy and seem to eat everything, there are foods that are toxic to them. The most common foods that are toxic to birds include chocolate, caffeine, onions, avocados, and fruit pits.
As mentioned earlier, gulls have also been known to eat plastic, which they are unable to digest. In most cases, the gulls will regurgitate the plastic.
What Do Seagull Chicks Eat?
Gull chicks rely on the adult birds to bring food back to the nest for them. The adult will regurgitate soft, easily digestible food for their chicks.
Chicks are often fed small fish and the hatching of eggs was found to be a trigger for western gulls to switch their diet from garbage to fish.
Both parents will help feed the chicks and will come back to the nest a few times a day to provide food.
One study found that urban adult seagulls were mostly feeding younger chicks fish, but chicks older than 20 days old were fed more refuse items.
It seems even when the adult gulls are eating human food, they do not feed this to their chicks and instead feed chicks with prey of natural origins such as fish, crustaceans, and birds.