SEAGULLS are known to regularly ruin days out at the beach by stealing people's food from out of their hands.
A trip to the seaside wouldn't be complete without a portion of fish and chips, but the swooping birds can make holiday mealtimes something of a challenging prospect.
However, it turns out the gulls might not be doing it just because they're hungry – they could be copying our behaviour.
Researchers at the University of Sussex have discovered that the birds watch humans to learn what's good to eat and what isn't.
They did this by placing brightly coloured crisp packets on Brighton beach.
They then sat nearby eating crisps from either a blue or green-coloured bag.
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In 95 per cent of cases, herring gulls copied the researchers and ate from the same-coloured packet that the humans were also eating from, suggesting they were taking note and copying.
Some of the birds even ignored the free unguarded food on the beach and went directly for the crisps that the researchers were eating.
This is because herring gulls are kleptoparasites – or to put it simply, thieves who steal food or prey from others.
Animals do this when it's easier, or uses less energy, than finding the food themselves.
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With thousands of people eating fish and chips at British seaside towns every day, particularly during the summer, there's plenty for them to steal.
Franziska Feist, a researcher at Sussex told the Telegraph: “Observing us eat is sufficient to influence their foraging decisions.
“Observational strategies are important for gulls because one of their foraging strategies is kleptoparasitism, or food-stealing.
“In non-urban areas, the targets may include other gulls as well as other species, and in urban areas, we happen to be a potential target."
Stopping them from copying you is therefore difficult when you're tucking into a big bag of chips.
However, a separate study from researchers at the University of Exeter suggests that staring at the birds could be one way to deter them.
Scientists put a bag of chips on the ground to see how long it would take before the birds swooped.
The herring gulls took 21 seconds longer to pounce with people watching than when they weren’t.
Some snatched chips in seconds if it looked as if they weren't being watched by people.
Lead author Madeleine Goumas, of Exeter University, said: “Gulls are often seen as aggressive and willing to take food from humans. By keeping an eye on them people could save their lunch, while reducing negative encounters.”
SAS legend Andy McNab recommends disguising your chips as something else, or covering them with a napkin to try and dissuade the birds.
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Meanwhile, this map revealed where the best fish and chips in the UK are.
And this seaside town has the best fish and chips in the UK, as well as seals, a Blue Flag beach & rooms from £35 a night.
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