BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE – (Rissa tridactyla)
The Black-legged kittiwake is part of the gull family, and it owes its English name from its call. Since it’s one of the few species of gulls with black (or dark) legs and feet, this helps in identification. The sexes are similar, but plumage varies depending on the age and the season (breeding vs nonbreeding). The bird is around 40 cm (15 in.) long, and in 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, as can be seen in the photo below.
This kittiwake feeds mainly on fish but is also known (see photo below) to eat invertebrates. However unlike some of its other gull cousins, it does not feed on garbage. The photographer Marie Smith mentioned that she observed several birds dropping shells for cracking and eating their contents. She added that they 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.
The Latin name ‘Rissa’ derives from the bird’s name in Icelandic, and ‘tridactyla’ refers to the fact that this species of kittiwake has almost no hind toe, thus only the three front ones.
Black-legged kittiwakes breed in colonies on cliff ledges and rock islands along the coastal areas of the northern Atlantic. The black-legged kittiwake does not breed on PEI, and 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.