The term ‘seagull’ is a misnomer which infuriates many ornithologists. Gulls live on the coast and inland, but don’t venture far out to sea as a rule; they swim well, but never dive. Their numbers in the UK have exploded since 1956 as a result of the Clean Air Act, which made it illegal to burn rubbish at landfills, massively increasing their food supply. Gulls are known to dive-bomb humans and splatter them, deliberately, with their patent cocktail of ammonia, four different acids, viruses, bacteria and fungal infections. There’s usually a four-stage attack: first the ‘gag’ call, a signal to go away, then a low pass if the first warning is ignored, followed by dropping their load – of guano, vomit or both. The final stage is a full-on 40mph aerial assault, normally from behind.
Gulls build their nests by simply making a big pile of any old rubbish they can find, then sitting in the middle of it and rotating. Parent gulls don't recognise their own chicks until they're about five days old, which means that orphaned or abandoned chicks survive better than they otherwise might.
The various types of gull which surround the Arctic are a ‘ring species’. As a species spreads populations can diverge genetically, and over time the different populations may lose the ability to interbreed (even though the types which are geographically adjacent still can). Eventually the populations spread right round the world and the two ends meet as separate species which cannot interbreed.
The Herring Gull has the longest life expectancy of any bird - they can live for up to 44 years in captivity.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife.
Kelp gulls eat whales alive. They just land on the whales' backs, and start pecking at their skin and blubber.
During the First World War Britain faced an unexpected problem: a German submarine blockade which threatened to choke off international supply lines. Amongst various proposed counter-measures was a plan to train seagulls to spot enemy submarines. Dummy periscopes towed behind ships had boxes of food attached to them so that the gulls would come to associate periscopes with food, and congregate around them. The initial idea was just to alert British merchantmen to the presence of the submarines, but then Admiral Sir Frederick Inglefield thought: since they’re diving onto periscopes, why not train them to poo all over the periscope's lens as well?
A gull training facility was built in Poole Harbour, but the idea was still in development when the arrival of US Destroyers in 1917 made it superfluous, since it was now possible to protect convoys by conventional means. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway: the gulls didn’t distinguish between friendly and hostile subs, and in any case they’re land-huggers and don’t fly far enough out to sea.
In England, gulls used to be kept in poultry-yards and fattened for consumption.
Seagulls stamp their feet in a group to imitate rainfall and trick earthworms to come to the surface.
Hark to the whimper of the seagull.
He weeps because he's not an ea-gull.
Desert Island Discs' seagull sound effects were once taken off after someone told the BBC they were herring gulls, which don't live in equatorial climes where you'd find a desert island. Listeners were outraged and persuaded the BBC to reinstate them.