October 2018

Vol. 46, No. 5

The Secret Lives of the Gulls of Appledore

Sarah Courchesne


Figure 1. Map of all gull nests on Appledore Island in 2018. Great Black-backed Gull nests are shown as dots and Herring Gull nests as triangles. Photograph by Mary Everett.

As scientists, we try not to make moral judgments about the organisms we study. When I tell members of the general public that I work with the Gulls of Appledore Project, however, it is clear that many people practice no such restraint. They offer plaintive objections that we are wasting our time studying "trash birds," and make frequent comparisons to rats and pigeons. Notwithstanding that rats and pigeons are fascinating creatures themselves, the category of being to which people assign gulls is clear. It's true that gulls are conspicuous denizens of parking lots, dumps, beaches, and landfills. They abscond with unattended—or even well-guarded—picnic fare, and they are generalists that will eat almost anything, or so their reputation would indicate. In our work with gulls on Appledore Island in Maine, we find that aspects of their reputation may be deserved, but that most people's understanding of gulls is partial, skewed, and biased, and that includes our own.

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