Anyone who has ever visited the sea right before a storm has probably asked themselves, “why do seagulls come inland when it rains?”
This curious bird behavior might seem a little bit baffling, but there are some very scientific reasons why seagulls fly to the shore right before a storm.
As it turns out, a lot of this behavior has to do with how seagulls are built.
Seagulls have a tremendous internal barometer that can tell them when the air pressure is shifting.
As such, they can fly inland to avoid getting caught in a storm.
While this internal barometer isn’t unique to seagulls, it certainly helps these oceanic birds avoid trouble. It can also help humans predict storms too.
Before we can fully understand how this internal barometer works, it’s essential to learn how seagulls form communities.
The way that seagulls interact with one another helps them survive and help hone their instincts.
Seagulls are part of the Laridae family of seabirds, and they have relatively long lifespans, even rivaling some different types of mammals.
Seagulls tend to live in large colonies to protect and preserve themselves and their community throughout different weather changes and natural disasters.
That way, even if they do get caught inside of a storm, they can rely on safety in numbers and fly close together for more security.
Although seagull communities provide relative safety for the birds, especially during bad weather, there are some downsides.
Larger colonies or communities mean more in-fighting as seagulls jockey for dominance.
In addition, there can be instances of bullying or ostracizing, especially during mating season.
Even so, the net benefits of being part of a community often outweigh the negatives, so very few seagulls will go it alone.
Note: Seagull populations can range from the thousands to a colony of only a few birds.
Seagulls might be common birds or even pests out on the beach, but they’re also evolutionary miracles.
Some theories speculate that the seagulls we know today actually came from ancient dinosaurs, and they had plenty of time to evolve and hone their instincts.
As such, seagulls’ sense of weather fluctuation is razor-sharp.
These instincts can help seagulls survive when the air pressure changes before a big storm.
Instead of being trapped out at sea, they fly back inland where they can seek shelter until it’s safe to emerge again.
These instincts also help seagulls to make small adjustments to minor migratory patterns, or even begin to anticipate when they can expect to experience storms.
Seagulls also have excellent senses and can hear sounds that people can’t.
That helps them tremendously when it comes to avoiding major weather events like earthquakes.
As undersea earthquakes can lead to tsunamis, a seagull going inland as quickly as possible is an essential protective measure.
So, what does it mean when seagulls fly inland?
Generally speaking, if you see a flock of seagulls flying inland on what otherwise looks like a calm day, it’s a good idea to get away from the shore.
Changing Flight Patterns
Seagulls’ instincts help them understand when they have to change their flight patterns and fly lower in the sky to avoid too much turbulence.
Once seagulls sense that the air pressure is dropping rapidly, they will start to fly lower over the water as they move towards the shore.
They will also start to fly much closer together, usually in packed groups that can help relieve wind pressure and unpredictable weather and keep them all stabilized.
Often, seagulls will do these things while still away from the shore, but you will see concentrated flocks of birds moving quickly towards land if you look out towards the horizon.
If you see birds flying into shore, consider their presence the calm before the storm.
Generally, you only have a little bit of time to get inside.
Note: Seagulls will fly in circles, they can adjust their internal barometer to adapt to any air pressure changes.
Weather Events and Disasters
Although regular storms aren’t necessarily disastrous for birds, severe weather can be.
Seagulls are adept at picking up cues for when earthquakes and tsunamis might be coming.
This ability is due to their knack for hearing lower-pitched infrasonic pulses.
As with most seabirds, seagulls can pick up these sounds, although they are completely undetectable to humans.
Seagulls might even have the ability to detect earthquakes and other natural weather events several days in advance.
While seagulls will fly inland, other seabirds may change strategy and fly out to the open ocean, where the catastrophic effects of the earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami will not be as pronounced.
Scientists can learn a lot about what we can expect, weather-wise, from animals like seagulls.
Institutions like the U.S. Geological Survey and State Seismological Bureau of China use changing flight patterns and odd seabird behavior to try to predict things like earthquakes.
Since we generally get warnings for many weather-related catastrophes, like hurricanes, but we don’t for earthquakes or tsunamis, this can be valuable information.
Also, since seagulls and seabirds can intuit these warnings several days in advance, humans can take that time to evacuate coastal towns and cities.
It’s certainly no exaggeration to say that this data can save lives.
The more we learn about how incredible seagulls’ instincts are, the better equipped we can be to use the information they give us.
Storms, rain, and natural disasters are not the only reasons you might find seagulls far away from the shore.
Seagulls are opportunistic animals, often seeking out food, shelter, and comfort, and seaside communities provide them with plenty of reasons to stray inward from the beach.
Some shorebirds and seagulls get familiar with humans and start to see them as a source of food.
Often, people will feed seagulls on the beach, and the birds will start to flock to human populations to get more of it.
Note: Seagulls usually have a diet of reptiles, insects, rodents, amphibians, and worms.
Additionally, seaside restaurants and snack shops are havens for seabirds, and once they get a taste for foods like French fries, they are more likely to continue venturing further inland.
What’s more, cities offer seagulls many places to take shelter. Taller buildings, alcoves, and other areas are ideal spots for nesting birds who still need access to the sea.
As the birds get more familiar with these spots, they will likely visit them more and more.
Access to trash is another reason why seabirds and seagulls travel inland.
Dumpsters and large parks are gold mines for these birds, although they do have to compete with other types of birds and animals for the refuse.
Now you know the reasons, but how far inland do seagulls fly? Some gulls have been observed to travel some 54 miles looking for food.
Note: That’s not the average, which is about 11 miles for the black-headed variety.
The best way to protect seagulls is to not feed or interact with them too much.
Human-friendly seagulls can get overly dependent on people, and forget how to do things like properly hunt for food.
Also, you don’t know what is toxic or harmful to these birds, so it’s best not to feed them human food.
Never try to catch or pet a seagull. Although many are relatively human-friendly, they are certainly not tame creatures.
If you see an injured seagull, you should call the police or your local wildlife rescue agency.
Don’t intervene because you could be harmed or injure the bird further.
Read Next: Where Do Flies Go When It Rain?
So, why do seagulls come inland when it rains?
The reasons are varied, but one of the most likely factors is their incredible instincts not to get caught in a storm.
These birds have a remarkable internal barometer that allows them to detect when there are shifts in air pressure.
We can learn much about keeping humans safe from natural disasters and other weather events from these magnificent and ancient creatures.