Black-legged Kittiwake

Common Name: Black-legged Kittiwake
Scientific Name: Rissa tridactyla


TIf you are curious about why these familiar birds are called kittiwakes, just listen to their noisy racket. Black-legged kittiwakes named themselves by calling out, over and over, "kitti-wake! kitti-wake! kitti-wake!"

Kittiwake colonies are noisy and unmistakable. These small members of the gull family (Laridae) are widely distributed throughout the Alaskan coast. They cluster together in groups of hundreds to thousands to nest and raise young on islands, rocks, and cliffs. Early in the summer kittiwakes can be seen flying overhead in streams as they gather grass and dry seaweed for their nests. They pat mud and wet seaweed into these grasses with their webbed feet to make the nest more stable and secure. After mating at that very site the female lays one to two pale speckled eggs.

Identification Tips

  • Length: 13.5 inches Wingspan: 36 inches
  • Sexes similar
  • Medium-sized gull
  • Bill relatively slim with indistinct gonydeal angle
  • Black legs

Adult Alternate

  • Bright yellow unmarked bill
  • Dark eye
  • White head, neck, breast, and belly
  • Gray back and upperwings
  • Thin white tertial crescent
  • Primary tips black with no white spots
  • White tail