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The Little Red Spot on a Gull's Bill

Is it just for decoration? Nope!

In the mid-20th Century, Dutch scientist Niko Tinbergen studied nesting Herring Gulls. He noticed that newly hatched chicks were fed by their parents only after they pecked at the adults' bills. Tinbergen devised experiments that varied the shape and coloration of the adult's bill. It became clear that the red spot on the adult gull's bill was a crucial visual cue in a chick's demands to be fed, and thus its survival. Learn more about Herring Gulls and about Tinbergen's research.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®
The Little Red Spot on a Gull’s Bill

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!
 [Bugling calls of Glaucous-winged Gulls]
 You may have noticed – on a trip to the shore or at a waterfront restaurant where gulls gather – that many gulls have a bright red spot near the tip of their otherwise yellow bills. [Bugling calls of gulls] Behind that red spot lies a considerable tale – that’s t-a-l-e!
 In the mid-20th Century, Dutch scientist Niko Tinbergen studied nesting Herring Gulls. He noticed that newly hatched gull chicks were fed by their parents only after they pecked at the adults’ bills [Begging calls of young gulls]. Tinbergen devised experiments that varied the shape and coloration of the adult’s bill. It became clear that the red spot on the adult gull’s bill was a crucial visual cue in a chick’s demands to be fed, and thus its survival.
[Begging calls of young gulls]
 Tinbergen also made the case that the chick’s attraction to the red spot on the bill was instinctive. This conclusion came at a time when there was furious debate among experts about whether such behavior was learned or innate.
 Tinbergen’s gull research helped lay the groundwork for the science of animal behavior, and in 1973 earned him a Nobel Prize. And it all started with that little red spot.
[Bugling calls of gulls]
Learn more about Tinbergen’s research – and see a photo of that red spot – on our website, BirdNote.org. I’m Mary McCann.
###
Bird audio provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Calls of Glaucous-winged Gulls recorded by A.A. Allen. Begging call of Glaucous-winged Gulls recorded by E.S. Booth. Herring Gulls recorded by Martha Fischer.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org      October 2014     Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# 100407redspotKPLU   gull-04b

http://tinyurl.com/yozx87

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