Chicken tikka masala is undoubtedly delicious. But this is not the reason a seagull loitering at a food factory in Gloucestershire, England, fell into a vat of it this past Monday.
Perhaps you've seen photos of the bird, colored orange from his dip. (Turmeric, a key ingredient in curry, contains a potent orange pigment.) It looks like he’s trying to cosplay as an Angry Bird.
"The thing that shocked us the most was the smell," Lucy Kells, a nurse at the Veterinary hospital that cared for the tikka'd gull, told the Guardian. "He smelled amazing, he really smelled good."
What's not shocking is that the gull’s mishap occurred in pursuit of human food.
"Seagulls are notorious thieves," the blog Living Alongside Wildlife explains. "They tend to steal from anything that has food."
Here's one gull stealing a sandwich from a closed backpack.
Here's one that was caught casually shoplifting.
Here's a gull mistaking a GoPro camera for food and flying away with it.
And here's one stealing a piece of fish right out of a person's mouth!
Seagulls are what biologists call kleptoparasites, animals that rob the food of other species. And the birds can be damn cunning about it.
According to Seabirds: Feeding Ecology and Role in Marine Ecosystems, kleptoparasitism is a survival strategy that minimizes the energy expenditure needed to obtain food. Basically, the gulls have realized, why search for your own food when there's some perfectly good food in another animal's possession? They need to be clever to do so. Birds that are kleptoparasites tend to have bigger brains than birds that live the straight and narrow.
For it to be considered kleptoparasitism, the biologist Erika Iyengar explains, the parasite has to steal food from the host, and the host has to suffer as consequence. (The people who were not able to eat that delicious spiced chicken because, gross, a bird was in it, definitely suffered.)
And it's not just human food. Gulls and some other birds will steal food right from the clutches of other birds, mid-flight.
Seabirds breaks down the percentage of which species of seabirds get their food from robbing. There are some, like the Arctic skua (a.k.a. the parasitic jaeger), that feast primarily on the food of others.
Gulls are what's known as "opportunistic kleptoparasites," meaning they don't derive 100 percent of their diets from heist but rather just steal when the opportunity arises. And a big vat of tikka masala is an opportunity no gull can afford to miss.