Experts say seagulls are 'thriving' in urban areas - due to having bigger brains.

New research shows the seagull species who have bigger brains are more likely to nest on coastal cliffs - and may also be better adapted to breed in urban environments such as on the roofs of buildings.

In Worcester, the High Street is often plagued by seagulls swooping on unsuspecting shoppers with birds of prey used by the city council to scare them away.

Last year, residents in Sandy's Road in Barbourne were being attacked and defecated on by the gulls keeping them 'hostage' in their homes.

According to ecologists at the University of Exeter, more than half of cliff-nesting gull species have been recorded as nesting in towns and cities - compared to just eleven per cent of those that do not.

And these species have bigger brains than their non-cliff-nesting counterparts.

The findings have come from a broad-ranging study conducted by ecologists based at Exeter’s Cornwall campus - which has explored potential relationships between brain size, wing shape, nesting habits and the use of urban areas.

It suggests that species such as the Herring Gull, the Lesser Black-backed Gull and the Black-legged Kittiwake possess a behavioural flexibility which enables them to nest in more challenging locations.

Lead author Dr Madeleine Goumas, formerly a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, said: "Many people will be familiar with gulls nesting and foraging in urban areas.

“It’s not something you might expect from a seabird, so we wanted to try to understand why they do it.”

Dr Neeltje Boogert, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, said: “We found that gull species with larger brains are more likely to be cliff-nesters, and cliff-nesting species are more likely to breed in urban areas.

“We also found that cliff-nesting is probably not something that was shared by the ancestor of gulls, so it is a relatively recent adaptation.”

When it came to foraging, the researchers found that neither brain size nor the shape of the wing, which affects manoeuvrability, were robust indictors of seagull behaviour in urban environments.

Worcester News: SCARY: The seagull that was attacking people in Barbourne last yearSCARY: The seagull that was attacking people in Barbourne last year (Image: SWNS)

Dr Boogert said: “Whether or not species use urban areas has important implications for conservation.

“If we can understand the factors that allow animals to use urban areas, we can better understand how to help those that aren’t faring so well.”

The study has built on a body of research conducted by the team on gull behaviour, including how they favour food humans have handled and how staring at them makes them less likely to steal your food.

'From the sea to the city: explaining gulls’ use of urban habitats' has been published in the latest edition of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution: