People Can't Get Enough Of The UK's Snack-Stealing Seagull

Seagulls are no strangers to social media, and not because people find them as endearing as Scuttle from "The Little Mermaid." In the summer of 2021, a TikTok video went viral when one of the mischievous birds decided to stalk an unsuspecting teenage boy in Scotland as he was about to bite into a KFC chicken wrap, literally snatching it from out of his mouth, per Newsweek. Also in 2021, a man in New Zealand came under fire for manhandling a protected gull as it tried to steal his chips, per the New Zealand Herald

So perhaps residents in the English seaside resort town of Paignton in South Devon should be grateful that all one hungry seagull wants to do is break into their local Tesco grocery to shoplift snacks, per The Daily Mail. The gull, which locals have nicknamed "Steven Seagull" in homage to actor Steven Seagal, is said to enjoy his Monster Munch, Mini Cheddars, and Tangy Cheese Doritos so much that he could have stolen an estimated 300 British Pounds, or $375 worth of junk food in a year. The shop's staff members say the bird drops by at least once a day — sometimes three — for his fix and that Doritos appear to be his favorite. One customer says she'd even seen him take a bag and go. "I told the cashier he'd just strutted off with a pack of Doritos and she said: 'Oh, he likes those,'" she tells the publication.

A study found that gulls prefer items handled by humans

Those who don't know much about seagulls might be surprised by their boldness, but scientists who study them say it's all par for the course — research finds that seagulls actually prefer food that's been previously touched by human hands. The study came about because, as lead author Madeleine Goumas from the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation put it, "Despite the fact they're a common sight in many towns, little is known about urban gull behaviour. We wanted to find out if gulls are simply attracted by the sight of food, or if people's actions can draw gulls' attention towards an item."

Goumas and her team gave herring gulls two identical pieces of food and found the birds preferred to peck at the food which had been handled. Further tests showed that the birds even pecked at sponges that looked like and were shaped like food. As Dr. Laura Kelley, the study's senior author summarized, "Our findings suggest that gulls are more likely to approach food that they have seen people drop or put down, so they may associate areas where people are eating with an easy meal." And considering gulls like Devon's beloved Steven are also known to be undiscriminating eaters, per Bird Facts, their apparently lack of fear should be reason enough to think twice the next time someone calls for an oceanside picnic.