Black legged Kittiwake

Black legged Kittiwake

This species is found most commonly in North America and Europe. Unlike most other gulls, the black-legged kittiwake spends most of the year far out at sea, usually out of sight of land. It is commonly found over continental shelves and at areas of upwelling, where cool, nutrient-rich waters rise to the surface and result in an abundance of prey.

Zoo Diet

At Living Coasts our kittiwakes have sprat, herring, mackerel, whitebait and squid. They also regularly get capelin and smelt and also sand eels in breeding season. They are particularly keen on smelt, squid and herring. They also have mealworms which they love.

Wild Diet

Its diet consists predominantly of marine invertebrates (e.g. squid and shrimps) and fish, especially a diet rich in sand eels, although during the breeding season it may also take intertidal molluscs, crustaceans (e.g. crayfish), earthworms, small mammals and plant matter.


The black-legged kittiwake feeds by snatching food from the surface of water or by plunge-diving to take food items just below the surface. It usually forages in flocks, often in association with other seabirds, and may occasionally steal food from other species.


Breeding usually takes place on steep coastal cliffs with narrow ledges, although the black-legged kittiwake will also nest on buildings and other man-made structures. Adult black-legged kittiwakes return to the breeding grounds from January, but breeding does not take place until May and June. 

The female black-legged kittiwake lays 1 to 3 eggs, which are incubated by both adults for 24 to 28 days. The chicks fledge at about 34 to 58 days old. After breeding, the birds leave the breeding ground from July to August, and the young remain at sea for the first few years of life, not returning to breed until they are three to five years old.


Significant population declines have been recorded in some parts of its range, such as in the United Kingdom.
Threats to the black-legged kittiwake include oil pollution and the depletion of its food resources due to over-fishing. Climate change is already a threat, warmer seas are causing changes to food availability and there is a strong link between rising sea temperatures and decreases in kittiwake breeding success and populations size.


The black-legged kittiwake has been the subject of a number of long-term studies and is considered a good indicator of the fluctuating conditions of marine ecosystems. This species is also protected in some European countries by national legislation, including France, Portugal and Spain. Population monitoring occurs across much of its breeding range, including Greenland, Norway, Iceland, France and the U.K. Further recommended conservation measures for the black-legged kittiwake include investigating its movements, diet and habitat use outside of the breeding season, as well as monitoring hunting and supporting efforts to reduce the risk of oil spills.

Black legged Kittiwake Black legged Kittiwake


  • Latin Name: Rissa tridactyla
  • Class: Birds
  • Order: Charadriiformes
  • Family: Laridae
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
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