Black-legged Kittiwake

Rissa tridactyla




Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

Buff to olive or blue with brown or gray speckles.

Number of Eggs:

1 - 3

Incubation Days:

25 - 32

Egg Incubator:

Both sexes

Nest Location:

On cliff ledge, 10 to 20 feet above ground.

Nest Material:

Grass and weeds.





Black-legged Kittiwake: Medium-sized white gull with pale gray back and upperwings; black wing tips; narrow white fringe on the inner remiges. In certain geographic regions may have white apical spots on wing tips. Rounded wings and slightly forked tail. Bill is green-yellow and legs and feet are black. Hind toe is vestigial. Iris is dark brown. Sexes are similar. Winter adult has pale gray crown and nape. Juvenile has dark gray spot behind eye and black bill, half-collar, wing patches and tail tip. Black "M" pattern across wings in flight. It has a swift, graceful flight, alternating several rapid shallow wing beats with a glide. Hovers over water before diving for prey at the surface. It feeds on marine invertebrates, plankton and fish. The sexes look very similar.

Range and Habitat

Black-legged Kittiwake: Breeds in northern Pacific and Arctic Oceans and in Atlantic south to Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Spends winters from edge of sea ice southward, rarely to Gulf of Mexico or Baja, California; also in Eurasia. Nests on ledges of offshore islands, sea stacks, or inaccessible areas on coastal mainland.

Breeding and Nesting

Black-legged Kittiwake: The bowl-shaped nest is built by both parents. It consists of earth and plant material pasted together with mud and guano. One to three, buff to olive or blue eggs with brown or gray speckles, are laid in the nest. They are built on a narrow rocky ledge 10 to 20 feet above water. Incubation ranges from 25 to 32 days, and is carried out by both parents.

Foraging and Feeding

Black-legged Kittiwake: These birds forage on the ocean surface while in flight or swimming, mostly in daylight but also at night, when foraging over deep ocean waters. They feed mostly on fish but also eat crustaceans, marine worms, mollusks, macrozooplankton, squid, insects, and sometimes plant material.


Black-legged Kittiwake: Series of piercing "kittiwakes." Also makes quieter "ock-ock-ock."

Similar Species

Black-legged Kittiwake: Red-legged Kittiwake has darker back, shorter bill, darker underwings, and red legs.

Similar to the upper part of the human neck, located at the back of the crown.
The crown is the top part of the birds head.
Also called the hindneck or collar, it is the back of the neck where the head joins the body.
Refers to the flight feathers-primaries, secondaries, and tertials.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X