‘Stare at seagulls’ project launches at Sidmouth Science Festival and appeals for volunteers

Staring at seagulls in a bid to study their behaviour is a nationwide project launched at the Sidmouth Science Festival 2020.

The year-long Gulls Eye Project, running from now until October 2021, needs citizen scientist volunteers from across the country to make eye contact with gulls and record their reaction and behaviour.

Volunteers need to stare at gulls for a set period of time and chart the bird’s reactions.

The project was set up by Dr Katherine Herborn and Dr Alex Wilson, behavioural ecologists at the University of Plymouth, and Dr Ruedi Nager at the University of Glasgow, with the aim of discovering if eye contact can indicate a gull’s perception of the riskiness of its environment.

A Gulls Eye Project spokesperson said: “We will test this in two ways. First, we will see if they fly away more often in conditions and locations that would be naturally risky for gulls.

“And second, we will run a parallel study using established, non-invasive, methods to measure gull risk sensitivity in the areas of sightings.

“If these correlate to response to eye contact, you will have helped us develop a new method to evaluate environments from the gull’s own perspective.

“This will enable us to use citizen science to monitor gulls on a large spatial and temporal scale, which may help to understand regional population declines.”

Recording a sighting takes around one minute.  Volunteers need to be within three to four metres (nine-12 feet) of a gull and describe their behaviour – standing, walking, sitting – and the bird’s response to five seconds of eye contact – stare back, walk away, fly away – choosing options from a drop-down list.

The next step is to chart the bird’s appearance, or to select the species, if known, and the number and behaviour of other gulls in that location.

Those taking part remain anonymous and no personally-identifiable data is collected.
Data will be used in research and public outreach.

Survey information is submitted through the Epicollect5 app, available free from the Google Play Store, the Apple Store or from its own website, here then search for the Gulls Eye Project.

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