This story is part of the CBC Creator Network series. The Creator Network amplifies the voices of the next generation of Canadian storytellers and connects them with CBC platforms, where they tell compelling stories and share unique perspectives that reflect the country in all its diversity. To check out more from the Creator Network, tap here.
Gulls: they tend to be considered a nuisance, stealing french fries or even entire slices of pizza, and squawking while you try to enjoy a quiet afternoon at the beach.
But conservationist Connel Bradwell and filmmaker Ryan Wilkes are trying to change how we view the birds.
“I think the reputation is pretty harsh,” Bradwell told CBC’s The Early Edition. “The more we learned about them, the more interesting they became.”
Bradwell and Wilkes said they observed the birds in urban settings and in nature to gain a better understanding of them.
WATCH | Creator Network: What’s to love about gulls
They’re ‘opportunistic omnivores’
Gulls, Bradwell said, are considered “opportunistic omnivores,” meaning they’ll eat just about anything.
In the wild, away from urban settings, they feed on sea stars, crabs and other shellfish. They often drop shells onto rocks to crack them open and access the food inside.
“I even saw them using the road,” Bradwell said. “They would drop a shell onto the road, a car would run over the shell and they’d come in and pick up the pieces.”
Anyone who’s ever been to Vancouver’s Granville Island has seen how the urban gulls operate: the birds dive-bomb tourists to grab a couple of fries, or swallow a slice of pizza whole.
“Gulls are turning to foods like French fries and eating garbage because the availability of the food in the ocean is not as plentiful as it once was,” Wilkes said.
Their habits say something about the environment
Gulls are a species that, based on their habits, could tell researchers and conservationists about what’s going on in the broader ecosystem, Wilkes said.
He said their mere presence in urban spaces is something to note.
“They’re telling us by being in these urban areas, by causing a ruckus, by being annoying, that maybe there’s problems out in the ocean.”
For example, Wilkes said, food may not be as plentiful as it once was in shorelines, their natural habitats.
According to researcher Louise Blight, if the bird’s population declines, it could signal to biologists that something “profound” is happening in the area in which they live.
They recognize screeches — and faces
There’s no mistaking the call of the gull: a loud shriek, which only gets louder as they gather — even Disney acknowledged this in their portrayed of the birds in Finding Nemo.
But though it may sound obnoxious to us, Bradwell says the birds have their own unique voices, similar to humans. That shrieky call is their form of talking — something gull chicks learn primarily to identify their parents.
“It’s actually very sophisticated,” Bradwell said.
LISTS | What makes gulls, a highly intelligent species, so special
The Early Edition5:57Gulls can seem like a nuisance, but conservationist Connel Bradwell says they’re treated unfairly
Not only do they recognize their unique calls, Bradwell said — they also recognize human faces, similar to crows.
That made me think, ‘Oh gosh, was I ever horrible to a gull? Will they remember me?'” Bradwell said with a laugh.
“I have definitely been nicer to the ones around my neighborhood now knowing that they might remember my face.”