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Hey Matt:

My family and I were picnicking at the beach when my daughter threw some biscuits for the sea gulls to eat. Out of curiosity, I threw some pieces of fried chicken their way to see if they would eat them. They didn't. Seagulls usually eat everything you give them, but they seemed to know that I was trying to feed them bird. Is there anything to this?

-- Ruel H., San Diego

They seemed to know... You sensed the gull vibes, and those vibes said, "I'm not a cannibal! I'm not a cannibal!" Well, baloney, Ruel. Gulls will eat pretty damn near anything, including stuff with feathers. And baloney, come to think of it. They're tough, they're scrappy, they'll chase other birds to steal whatever those birds are eating. Among the 40+ species of gulls, there are some pretty radical feeding habits. They can dig up marine worms, clams, catch and kill rats and rabbits, feast on dead (or dying) stuff like seals or fish. They'll eat grain and bugs and marine algae. They can harvest mussels or catch mice, then drop them from great heights onto rocks to crack their shells or their skulls. When gull populations are under stress, they've even been known to eat their neighbors' hatchlings. And one scientific report noted that when a storm killed hundreds of gull chicks, many of the adults ate the bodies of their very own children!

One of the best things to happen to gulls, of course, is people. With people come garbage and french fries, which don't have to be dug up, chased, or killed. Gulls have honed their innate scavenging skills and now can recognize a picnic basket hidden under a beach towel half a mile away. Fried chicken shouldn't be any scarier than dead rats or eviscerated seals, so it's not clear why these particular gulls took a pass on your offer. The neighbors took their little girl to the beach, and a gull grabbed one of her fuzzy slippers right off her foot, flew around with it a bit, then dropped it in the water and took off. If bedroom slippers look good enough to nibble on, you gotta figure anything's fair game.

If the dominant bird in the flock rejected your chicken snack, the others might do that too. If he was busy with the biscuits at the moment you stuck out your hand, maybe it was just bad timing. Birds don't have a particularly good sense of smell; gulls are slightly better smellers than some others, so maybe the chicken reeked (in gull terms), but it's not too likely. All things considered, I can only assume that you trashed the chicken if even a sea gull wouldn't eat it.

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