Kittiwake

Rissa tridactyla

38-40cm

Appearance

A medium-sized gull, quite similar to the Common Gull but for the subtle fork in its tail, the short black legs, the triangle shape of the black wing-tips and the lack of spotting in that area. The bill is small and yellow and the eye is dark. The sexes are similar. During summer, the blue-grey back is darker than the grey on the upperwings, and the rest of the plumage is white. When flying, the wings can appear as if they've been dipped in dark ink. Birds gain grey patches around the eye and back of head during winter. Juveniles have a distinctive 'V' marking on both of the wings, a grey back, black half-collar and tail-tip, dark bill, and a grey marking on the head. First-winter birds lose the dark collar and tail-tip markings.

Habitat

Prefers rocky coasts for breeding, and is usually far out on the ocean at other times.

Character

Breeding colonies are big and raucous and are usually on cliffs, though when not breeding, birds may be alone or in small groups. Scavenges from boats and may also dive for food. Breeding birds make visits to freshwater to bathe in mud and to gather it to form part of their nests.

Food

Diet includes fish such as caplin, herring, sprats and sand eels, other marine-life including shrimps, planktonic sea creatures, worms, insects and carrion.

Breeding

Female lays 1-3 eggs in May and both adults incubate for 25-32 days. Hatchlings are tended to by both parents, and can fly after about 33-54 days; they're soon independent.

Population

Birds leave their breeding colonies in July and August, and while a number stay around the British Isles, many juveniles head to the coast of North America. Some adults may go south-west. Approximately 380 000 pairs breed in the UK and 33 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The Kittiwake spends the non-breeding season out at sea unless brought inland by interfering weather. For this reason observation is best during the breeding season, and Dunbar Harbour and the Farne Islands are top sites for this bird. Some colonies have grown to be quite tolerant of human observers.

Voice

Has a distinctive 'kittee-waaark' call most commonly heard at colonies.
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