Why do seagulls soar?

Yeah, seagulls. There are a lot of them where I live, and I’ve often wondered why they ride thermals and updrafts. They’re not feeding or mating, the two primal drives, so what’s up?

It’s more energy efficient to soar than it is to flap. They’re following that other primal drive: to fly

Why not? Thermals represent a low-energy way of getting someplace. Low-cost transportation can help both in feeding and mating.

Skeptical of weather forcasters and all flavors of mass media.

I should perhaps point out that “seagulls” is not a designation that’s especially well accepted by ornithologists. Plenty of gulls never go anywhere near the ocean.

Because it is too far to walk.

As the old joke goes: They’re called seagulls because they’re by the sea. If they were by the bay they’d be bagels. :slight_smile:

I thought maybe they were looking for starfish.
I’ve spent a lot of time at the pier watching seagulls. Here’s what they do;
Sit on the roof of Skate’s for a while. Make noise and shit. Take off and then circle (soaring) for quite a while. Land back on Skate’s roof. That’s about it. No screwin’, no eatin’.
I often see seagulls riding the thermals over the refinery next to where I work. No hijinks there either. They simpy circle and circle, then go back (I presume) to where they came from.

Plenty of ornithologists never go anywhere near the ocean. :stuck_out_tongue:
Ever read Johnathan Livingston Seagull? What if it were named “Johnathan Livingston Gull”? Yuck!

Well, if transport is nearly free, there’s no reason it has to result in a frequent payoff. Maybe they’re checking out the food/mating possibilities.

(In truth, we all know that for most birds mating happens only a couple of weeks or so each year.)

Why isn’t it ever suggested that animals know how to have fun? I see turkey buzzards riding thermals all the time, and I assumed it was fun for them. They aren’t circling carrion, they aren’t travelling anywhere… they just glide along until they hit the updraft, and whee! up they go. They circle for a bit, swoop out of it, and do it again.

I mean, what is ‘fun’, anyways? What are the things we do that we think are fun, and what makes them fun? If it has anything to do with exercising the skills we’re good at, and finding that stimulating to our minds and/or bodies, every species probably has fun activities of some kind.

The truly excellent seagulls do it for the sheer delight of flight.
From the definitive work on seagull behavior:

Read all about him and his buddies here. :wink:

Damn, scooped by the OP’er :smack: Well at least with the link, no one’s got to actually go out and buy the silly book anymore.

Well, if you’re on the ground (and you’re a seagull), you’re more vulnerable to predators.

I think taken together the various responses here provide the answer.

  1. Thermal soaring has a minimal energetic cost to the bird.

  2. It enables the bird to keep an eye out for new food sources, or for other gulls that may have found food.

  3. A soaring bird is relatively less vulnerable to predators than one that is perched.

  4. It’s more interesting than just sitting around on the pier.

I’ve been told by an ornithologist that they also communicate via their thermal flights too!
If a gull circles around once and then dives down for food, then other gulls tend not to follow it down, however, if it circles around three times and dives down, there’s a free for all!

You are sooo close Colbri… But the long and the short of it is basically a smorgesbord of different senses going on down on the water or over a dump, or where ever they are foraging.

I’ll not offend anyone who posted about Jonathan Livingston Seagull - As Bach is one of my favorites as well.

The reason they are circling, is they are actually foraging. Birds like this find food by scent. The reason vultures circle over carrion is because they are smelling the site, making sure they do not get a scent of disease or some other such sickly rot, that may endanger them. Vultures look like they’ll eat anything, but if they get a sniff of something not Kosher to them, they’ll not eat it. Ever see a vulture or seagul for that matter eat Shit? Oh excuse me… feces? Nope, because there’s a reason…

Seagulls, circle on the thermals because they are smelling for something good to eat… Actually for those who are around seagulls a lot, you may notice something, the ones foraging themselves and eating what the sea has to offer, tend to be healthier than those dumpster diving. It’s because their natural instincts to forage make them smarter healthier than their dumpster counter parts…

Cecil touched on the vulture theme - just do a search and you’ll find it…

Brainfizz - I have rarely not seen a free for all when one gull has something good to eat. Unless it is a juvenile and an adult… Especially with the Black Backs…

The question seems answered, so maybe we should just sit back and watch them soar:

“Let the seagull soar
like she’s never soared before
from rocky coast to golden shore
Let the mighty seagull soar.”

by Jonathan Livingston Ashcroft

Thanks for the compliment, but it was not by Cecil, it was a Staff Report by me (actually, at the time I was still a guest contributor), as a matter of fact:

Why do vultures circle dead stuff?

This is incorrect. Like most birds, gulls have a poor sense of smell. While Turkey Vultures find food by smell, gulls generally do not. About the only other birds that find food by smell are kiwis. (Some petrels have a good sense of smell but apparently use it mainly to find their nesting burrows.)

Gulls forage mainly by sight. And as I said, when they are soaring they are often probably looking out for food, or for other gulls that have found food.

Cite, please?

SD Staff George
SD Science Advisory Board

There are not too many cites I could find about gulls feeding habits and no studies supporting my claim about shore gulls being healthier than dumpster gulls [sup]tm[/sup].

I was born and raised on the coast in New England, I have never lived more than 100 feet from Long Island Sound - except a short 4 year stint in Tempe, Arizona for Grad-school. Basically I can only answer your request for a cite with an analogy.

…it’s like the freshly graduated marine sciences student telling the local fluke fisherman where to fish, having herself never stepped foot on a trawler…

Your report on vultures was fascinating, and I tell people quite often about it, when I need some trivia.

But I have personally noticed, the shore gulls - Herring gulls mainly - look healthier and are less timid than say the dumpster gull[sup]tm[/sup] who will practically let you pick it up.

This is only an observation

According to this run of the mill herring gulls get ony 20-40 percent of their food consumtion from man’s waste. But that portion is stronger in some, less so in others. My driveway is evidence enough of the smarts of the more ‘natural’ feeders. My driveway is made up of quahog (clam) shells cracked to smitherines, by gulls plucking them out of the sea, and droping them at high altitudes to eat the contents. They’ll drop the occasional blue crab or small lobster as well.

I’ve never seen a dumpster gull drop a McDonalds bag to get the crums off a half eaten BigMac.