Gulls pay attention to human eyes

Originally published at:

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Of course they’re looking at our eyes. Those are the parts they plan to eat first.



And potato chips.


Doesn’t anyone who observes birds already know this (gaze direction) about them? It likely has more to do with general predator avoidance than with “regular interactions with humans”.

The urban tolerance finding - it’s called habituation.


quod erat demonstrandum.


I would have applauded this study if it were done by a 10 or 12 year-old as a science project. For presumably well-paid researchers to go out and tromp such extremely well-trod ground seems absurd.


i would go even further to say this applies to all animal/human interaction. our cats, for one thing, have this adorable little tic where they lick their nose every time we make eye contact with them.


crows. crows behave exactly the same…go by a few meters away without looking at them, they dont give a fuck, just gaze at them without moving your head, they get extremly nervous and looking for an escape route.


Sorry, who? The lead author is a Phd student. The others all appear to be undergraduates.

These are baby academics busily trying to fulfil the onerous and pointless requirement to publish at all costs. Pay is not likely to be a thing.

Ah yes, but have they written it down in suitably posh language? :slight_smile:

Well, whether that is the case or not sounds like exactly the sort of question some bright young things might be able to do some research on and maybe write a nice paper about.

Now I’d like to be able to check the article itself to see whether it is actually just stating the bleedin’ obvious as it appears but the actual article is of course stuck behind an Elsevier paywall.


Its well known that you can discourage magpie attacks by putting fake eyes on the back of your head.

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Maybe I was unfairly dismissive in my initial comment. I did manage to find the paper and its predecessors. The authors acknowledge the deep evolutionary roots of gaze sensitivity. Their conclusions (minus the fluff) seem to be framed in terms of conservation. Staring a gull away is better than shooting it. Perhaps we need official science before the obvious becomes a recommended policy.

I am more intrigued by how this finding quickly bubbled up into the popular science newsletters. It speaks to our general alienation from nature and its commonplace knowledge. A bird pays attention to gaze direction, just like we do? Astonishing! Fifty years from now, when we rarely go outside with the heat and fires, “Scientists confirm that rain gets you wet”, just like a shower. Astonishing!


I’m telling ya, it’s a money thing. Too bad for the slave labor that the dons sent out to do the excruciatingly useless dirty work.

Indeed. Both predators and prey track eye movement.

Reported here:


With the added bonus that it minimises tiger attacks - a two for one value!


Are there any areas in animal behavior research that one actually takes up for the money?

If you go into ‘freemium’ game development I suppose you can make expertise in whale psych pay off; but I’m not thinking of too many other options.

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gulls are less likely to peck a bag of chips if a human is watching

It’s not easy to keep one eye on your snacks and the other on flying food snatchers. :dizzy_face: That’s why so many shore towns have been spending money on a variety of deterrents (since overhead netting was rejected):


</vaults onto his high horse>

These aren’t ‘baby’ academics. The lead author is a PhD student, the last authors are her supervisors - both of whom hold very competitive fellowships. The middle authors might be Masters or UG students. So, this is part of the lead author’s doctoral research programme and the paper is pretty clear that they are addressing some specific outstanding questions to do with species-specificity of responses, innate vs. learned behaviour and, yes, habituation to urban environments.

You might not be enthralled by this research area - that’s just fine - but science is littered with the bones of stuff that ‘was just obvious’ until people bothered to look in detail and test it. Science is also incremental - not everything is plate tectonics or evolution - so filling in the gaps and checking assumptions (and yes, even checking whether previous findings are repeatable) is all good science. And reporting what you find, even if it isn’t the grand unified theory, is part of scientific good practice and the agreement you have with the people funding you.

I know this is ranty. I also know that it is ludicrous that science paywalls make it impossible to see the details of research.


Those of us who’ve lived with birds are not surprised by this observation in the slightest.


The strangest part of these types of observations is the fact that it should seem surprising and what that says about some of the baseline assumptions about non-human life in our current reality. Seems like this is a particularly recent thing (historically) to assume the lack of an inner world for supposedly lower life forms, it reads a bit like a sort of cognitive chauvinism. (one which I bet most pet owners exempt their companions from to at least a certain degree).

There are stories from the middle ages in Europe where domestic animals were put on trial - to determine if misdeeds were a result of an accident or bad character.