Cottage Q&A: Feeding seagulls scraps

An adult seagull perched on a rock By Keith Pritchard/Shutterstock

We have a bald rock island a little ways from our cottage where we  take our fish guts. The seagulls eat it up as soon as we leave it. However, our neighbours have started leaving their fruits, vegetables, and eggshells on the island too. Do birds eat this?—Diane Robinson, French River, Ont.

Herring gulls or ring-billed gulls, a.k.a. seagulls, “will eat just about anything,” says Doug Tozer of Birds Canada. Fish guts, vegetables, french fries, energy bars, garbage, dead mice…bring it on. “But it’s best that they not come to rely on human food sources,” says Tozer. (Not even your discarded fish innards. Sorry.) 

“If they do, then large numbers of gulls might start to frequent a particular area when they otherwise wouldn’t,” he says. The birds could become nuisance wildlife. That’s annoying for the cottagers on the lake and ultimately not great for the gulls either. Plus, unlike seed-eating birds at bird feeders, “we don’t have good data on the health and survivorship of individual gulls that frequently feed on human leftovers
compared to their normal, natural food,” says Tozer.

You can’t control what your neighbours do, but as for your fish guts, you’re better off dropping them overboard in deep water, well away from shore, says Tozer. “This is often considered best practice for disposal.”

This article was originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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