In Praise of the Gull

… you just can’t not pay attention to these loud, clever, smart birds…

They’re like one of those people you’re not really crazy about, but at the same time, there’s something about them that’s hard to ignore – and you may even come to admire. 

“Most people don’t like gulls,” says Gui Réthoré, field guide and bird expert in the Algarve. “They can be aggressive, they can steal your food, they poop everywhere – so most people don’t really like them.”

Yes, let’s put that on the table right away. 

Nonetheless, here in the Algarve, we all share much of our outdoor space with gulls – specifically, according to Gui, the yellow-legged species. Ron and I live in Lagos town centre on the 4th floor of an old apartment building. We’re perched on one of the highest points behind the old fort walls of this seaside town. 

And gulls are everywhere – ever-present, soaring and swooping above and around. We wake up to their plaintive calls that drone into the day and laugh into the night. They keep an eye on us from the adjacent roofs and we keep an eye on them as they preen and jabber and endearingly share food with one another. 

We see them shuffling with their little yellow feet on the narrow street below, choosing which garbage bags they’ll rip apart to look for goodies. We spy crowds of them bobbing atop the shallow beach waters waiting for god knows what to happen – but of course, probably something to do with food. 

Survivors to Thrivers 

Unlike other birds in Portugal that are endangered due to the destruction of their ecosystems (there are more than two dozen), gulls have adapted exceptionally well. 

In addition to their omnivorous diet, gulls also have the remarkable ability to drink saltwater thanks to a special desalination gland above their eyes. You can just hear them saying, “So what if I don’t have fresh water to drink? Nah na na na nah”. 

Gui Réthoré is available for bird-watching experiences at ecotourism company A Rocha Life 

Booty Call Galore

They also have what might be an ideal open relationship. They’re promiscuous – but faithful at the same time. While some birds mate for life, gulls tend to have multiple partners during their breeding season, which ensures they produce as many offspring as possible. Yet, they also stick with the same mate (or mates) and nesting site year after year. 

They’ll breed anywhere, according to Gui – they’ll even do the deed on people’s balconies. (And they can get quite aggressive if you try to put a stop to the show.)

To top it off, they don’t bother constructing complicated nests like other birds. They just pop them out wherever! Gui observes, “They lay their eggs on the ground, in stones, or on a cliff.” And while their eggs only take about a month to hatch, they can live more than 20 years under the right conditions.

Awesome Skills Set

In the end, gulls have a diverse skill set that would impress any head of human resources. You could say they’re stand-outs in the bird world. They swim and shallow dive, they fly high and catch wind currents to glide and hover, and they walk – or run – one webbed foot in front of the other. 

Gui, the bird expert, reminds us, “They’re pretty adaptable’ that’s why they’re so successful!”

“Success” means they’re survivors … and in this respect, they’ve survived human failings. For example, we’ve overfished our seas, so they come for our garbage – and they’re not picky. They eat almost everything. And since humans are so good at littering, you could say we’ve created a monster. In fact, if you believe gulls are pests, we only have ourselves to blame.

Becca Williams is settling into small-town living in Lagos. You can contact her at


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