Kittiwake 10 (Jerry Cassidy).jpg

Kittiwake 16 (winter) (DC).jpg

Black-legged Kittiwake

Rissa tridactyla


Status: Summer visitor to steep coastal cliffs along all Irish coasts. Disperses to the open ocean in winter and less frequently seen.

Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland, due to its localised breeding population. The European population is regarded as Secure.

Identification: A small gull, slightly larger than Black-headed Gull, which is basically grey above and white below. Adults are easily told apart from other gull species by the solid black wing tips, showing no 'mirrors' (white at the wing tip), and two toned grey upperwing. Adult birds have a yellow bill and dark legs. Adults show white heads in the summer and a dark patch behind the eye in the winter. Juvenile and first year birds have a bold dark 'W-pattern' across the wing and a dark tail band, although these features can be much faded by the first summer/second winter. Second year birds are similar to adult birds but can show black fringes to outer primaries, black on the bill or winter head patterning in the summer months.

Similar Species: Common and Black-headed Gulls.

Call: Noisy at colonies, giving a nasal call resembling its name. Can often be heard clearly over the sounds of other birds at seabird colonies.

Diet: Fish, waste from commercial fishing and invertebrates.

Breeding: Forms colonies, sometimes thousands strong, often with other seabirds. Breeds on steep sea cliffs where it builds a nesting platform on the most vertical and sometimes improbably steep areas. Will occasionally use man-made structures such as old buildings, for example in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford.

Wintering: Winters at sea.

Where to See: Good sites to see breeding Kittiwakes include Howth and Bray Heads in Counties Dublin and Wicklow, as well as the Dunmore East colony. Small colonies can be found at most headlands along all Irish coasts, with the largest (about 7,000 pairs) found along the Cliffs of Moher. Quite common at sea outside of the breeding season.

Monitored by: Breeding seabirds are monitored through surveys carried out every 15-20 years, the last was Seabird 2000, which was undertaken between 1998 & 2002.

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