BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE

BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE(Rissa tridactyla)
DESCRIPTION: The Black-legged Kittiwake is a small mainly pelagic gull. Its plumage varies depending on the age and the season (breeding vs nonbreeding). In breeding adults the body and head are white, and the back and wings grey. The wing tips are black, as well as the legs, but the bill is yellow. Outside the breeding season, this bird has grey plumage around the neck and a dark grey area behind the eye. Sexes are similar. The bird is around 40 cm (15 inches) long.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Rissa-tridactyla
NAME: The English name ‘Kittiwake’ is an onomatopoeia for the bird’s call. The Latin name ‘Rissa’ derives from the bird’s name in Icelandic, and ‘tridactyla’ stems from the fact that this species of kittiwake has almost no hind toe, thus only the three front ones.
HABITAT: Open oceans and along the coasts.
DIET: This kittiwake feeds mainly on fish but is also known (see photo below) to eat invertebrates. Unlike some of its other gull cousins, it does not feed on garbage.
NESTING: Black-legged kittiwakes breed in colonies on cliff ledges and rock islands. About two light blue or beige eggs are laid, which are incubated by both parents. Chicks are also fed by both parents.
DISTRIBUTION: The breeding range of this species covers the coastal areas of the northern Atlantic and Pacific. During migration the bird can be observed along the coasts of North America, Europe and Asia. There have been some vagrants reaching Hawaii.
ON PEI:   The black-legged kittiwake does not breed on Prince Edward Island. Its occurrence ranges from uncommon to very common in the fall, depending on the years. Sightings during the other seasons are accidental.
CONSERVATION: The black-legged kittiwake is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, mainly due to depletion of food sources caused by climate change, and oil pollution. This bird is also still being hunted in some parts of Northern Europe.
NOTES: The black-legged kittiwake is part of the Gull family. Since it’s one of the few species of gulls with black (or dark) legs and feet, this helps in identification.
Shell Cracking: Photographer Marie Smith mentioned that she observed several kittiwakes dropping shells from the air on hard surfaces for cracking and eating their contents. She added that the birds seemed to be able to estimate the optimal height from which to drop the shell for best results. For more information on shell-cracking behavior in gulls and other birds, please click here.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Bonaparte’s Gull
REFERENCES: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-legged_Kittiwake/id
https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-legged-kittiwake
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
Black-legged Kittiwake (.pdf document, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service)
 http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/blackleggedkittiwake.htm (New Hampshire PBS)
https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/qc/mingan/decouvrir-discover/Naturel/6-recherche-research/b-result/9
http://www.npolar.no/en/species/black-legged-kittiwake.html (Norwegian Polar Institute)
http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/black-legged_kittiwake
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-legged_kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake, nonbreeding adult - Summerside, PEI - Sept.12 , 2017 - © Marie Smith
Black-legged Kittiwake, nonbreeding adult – Summerside, PEI – Sept.12 , 2017 – © Marie Smith
Black-legged Kittiwake - Vardo, Norway - Aug. 2012 - photo by Yathin S. Krishnappa
Black-legged Kittiwake – Vardo, Norway – Aug. 2012 – photo by Yathin S. Krishnappa

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