In the column “Since You Asked,” Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Her column appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Here’s a question from the August 2016 issue:
I visited an Atlantic coastal beach and saw gulls that looked like they were dancing or running in place in shallow water. What were they doing? — Ron Roman, Worcester, Massachusetts
The gulls were foraging for food using a method known as “foot paddling.” Gulls will perform the behavior in tidal areas, mudflats, even wet lawns. The shuffling or stamping exposes small prey such as crustaceans, worms, horseshoe-crab eggs, or other invertebrates, depending on the habitat. It is thought that the vibration may even coax prey from shallow burrows.
Foot paddling has been observed in gull species around the world. Other birds that use similar foraging maneuvers include shorebirds, waterfowl, egrets and herons. – Julie Craves
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.
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