Seagulls are known to be opportunistic scavengers, swooping down to steal a fry off a table, but some Vancouver gulls have learnt a slightly more sophisticated way to fill their bellies.
They tap on the windows of high-rise buildings hoping a friendly human will hand them a snack.
A hotspot for the behaviour is the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, and tourists seem to love it, with many visitors sharing their experiences on social media.
The Glaucous-winged Gull – the most abundant gull on the B.C. coast – is larger than your average seagull and “quite handsome,” depending on whom you ask.
Nicola Marrison, Fairmont Gold manager at the waterfront hotel, said no one could remember exactly when gulls started knocking on the glass, but it had been an issue since the hotel opened in 1991.
One particular gull has become quite the star attraction.
“There are several seagulls that routinely knock on the windows for food scraps — we’ve named our favourite Jerry,” Marrison said.
“Jerry’s regular perch is on the Fairmont Gold railing on the 9th floor and he causes a little more commotion when food is around.”
She said staff had to clear tables on the patio with lightning speed, before the seagulls swooped in to get to the scraps.
At the moment, the hotel doesn’t have a strict policy on feeding the birds.
“Every now and then we get the odd guest feeding the seagulls for the photo opportunity, so we are diligent in having conversations with guests where applicable,” Marrison said.
A recent hotel guest, Georges Levesque, was lucky enough to see the cleverness of one of the gulls firsthand, when it paid him a visit at the window of his 20th floor room few weeks ago.
He was so impressed he filmed the bird and posted two videos on YouTube.
Levesque, who lives in Montreal, was in town for a work convention and stayed at the hotel for three nights. And each day, without fail, the gull – presumably Jerry – turned up to say hello.
“It coincided with me opening the window to get a little air and within five minutes of doing that he was at the window,” Levesque told the Courier.
“It was only when he pecked on the window that I turned and noticed he was there.
“I was excited because he’s quite large and really quite handsome for a seagull.”
Levesque said it was clear the gull was in search of a snack.
“It seems this good looking fella has figured out that some people will feed him when he shows up,” he wrote on YouTube.
In the light-hearted videos, Levesque adds a little comical commentary.
The first video is a bit of a meet and greet.
“You’re looking for some food, aren’t you, from this window? I left that open and you walked right over,” Levesque can be heard saying.
“I’m sorry I don’t have any food on me, but come back a little later and maybe I’ll to get you something.”
In the second video, Levesque seems quite excited at the bird’s return.
“My buddy is back! He’s back! Look at that, ” he’s heard saying.
He feeds the gull a few pieces of bread through the window, and is pretty impressed by the bird’s actions.
“He’s come to get some bread. And he got it. He’s pretty good at this actually,” he says in the clip.
“This is one clever seagull. He knows where to come for breakfast. This is pretty impressive.”
With all the seriousness of life often getting in the way, Levesque said the experience was refreshing and fun.
“I just think it was adorable. He’s quite the character,” he said.
“I think we sometimes don’t pay attention to seagulls, but both my kids and my staff saw the bird in a different light.
“It was just a nice lightness to the day.”
Louise Blight, adjunct associate professor at the University of Victoria, who was the lead researcher on the study, “A century of change in Glaucous-winged Gulls” – said she has witnessed firsthand the behaviour of gulls around high-rise buildings in downtown Vancouver.
“They have learnt from somebody somewhere that seeing a person in the window means food,” she said.
“It will be happening in urban environments where people have fed them from windows in high-rises before. They are doing it because we taught them to.
“They are clever birds and they’ve learnt that this works for them.”
While the gulls may stop by windows now and then for a quick feed, Blight said fish is still their preferred choice of food.
“They like to eat fish and that’s what they do best on. They prefer bringing fish to their chicks, which is not the easier option,” Blight said.
She encourages people to enjoy the experience if a gull taps on their window, but advised it is best not to feed them.