10

I often take a slice of bread to the beach when I go on my beachcombing ramblings, and throw pieces of it to the shore birds that are, like me, combing the beach but, unlike my search for "jewels" are on the scavenge for grub.

For the most part, these avians are seagulls of one stripe or another. However, I notice a striking difference in their behavior: some will hover overhead and snatch the pieces of bread out of the air as I chuck them skyward, but most of them look at the bread to see where it's going to fall and then swoop down and sweep it up; or they just land on the beach in front of me and wait for a treat to come their way (I broadcast the morsels pretty equally, trying to give each bird a piece).

Are the air-grabbers hungrier than the more sedate ones? Or are they just more accustomed to humans heaving them their dinner and are thus "old wings" at plucking the tidbits out of the stratosphere before one of their mates gets an opportunity to intercept their meal?

12

No, gulls (of some species at least) steal food from other birds by moving them until they drop it. They must then be adept at snatching the falling food in mid air.

There's material of interest in the Wikipedia article on seabirds - search for kleptoparasitism, reference 23 looks particularly interesting. The article on mobbing also hints in this direction, more as an assumption than discussing it directly.

Here's the abstract of a talk last year on kleptoparasitism in gulls, the subject of a PhD thesis.

Gull behaviour varies significantly between species. Black-headed gulls in particular are agile and tend to snatch food as soon as possible, before larger species can get there.

  • 2
    This is truly fascinating stuff! – Sue May 30 '16 at 23:05

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