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Black-legged Kittiwake

November 15, 2023

Welcome to our comprehensive educational blog on the Black-legged Kittiwake, a fascinating and unique bird species known for its distinctive appearance and behaviors. In this blog, we will explore various aspects of the Black-legged Kittiwake, including its size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, and some interesting facts about this captivating species. Additionally, we will discuss the ecosystem services provided by the Black-legged Kittiwake and conclude with an overview of its significance in the natural world. So, let's dive into the captivating world of this remarkable seabird.


Size and Shape

The Black-legged Kittiwake is a medium-sized gull species, with a body length ranging from 15 to 18 inches (38 to 46 cm) and a wingspan of about 35 to 39 inches (89 to 100 cm). This bird species is characterized by its slender build and long, pointed wings, which are well-suited for agile and sustained flight over the ocean.

The Black-legged Kittiwake's bill is relatively short and thin compared to other gull species, with a slight hook at the tip, perfect for catching fish and other marine prey. Its legs are proportionately short and black, giving the bird its name, and its webbed feet allow it to navigate through water efficiently. Overall, the Black-legged Kittiwake's size and shape are well-adapted for its oceanic lifestyle, with a streamlined body and specialized features that enable it to thrive in its marine environment.


Color Pattern

Adult Black-legged Kittiwakes display a striking and easily recognizable color pattern, with a mostly white body and contrasting gray upper wings and back. The bird's head is also primarily white, with a small, black smudge behind each eye, which is more pronounced during the breeding season.

The wingtips of the Black-legged Kittiwake are black with a white "mirror" on the outermost primary feathers, creating a distinctive pattern visible both in flight and at rest. Juvenile Black-legged Kittiwakes have a more mottled appearance, with gray-brown feathers on their back, wings, and head, and a black collar around the neck. As the young birds age, they gradually acquire the adult plumage, with the black collar and mottled feathers being replaced by the clean white and gray coloration characteristic of adult birds.



The Black-legged Kittiwake is a highly social bird species, often forming large colonies during the breeding season, with pairs nesting in close proximity to one another on cliff ledges and rocky outcroppings. These seabirds are known for their agile and graceful flight, capable of navigating turbulent coastal winds and soaring effortlessly over the ocean surface in search of food.

Black-legged Kittiwakes primarily feed on fish and other marine creatures, using their keen eyesight and agile flight skills to plunge-dive into the water and capture prey with their bills. This bird species is monogamous, with pairs forming long-lasting bonds and returning to the same nesting sites year after year to raise their young. During the non-breeding season, Black-legged Kittiwakes spend most of their time at sea, often forming large flocks and covering vast distances in search of food and suitable wintering grounds.



Black-legged Kittiwakes are primarily marine birds, inhabiting coastal areas and spending much of their lives over the open ocean. Their breeding range extends across the North Atlantic and North Pacific, with colonies found in regions such as the Arctic, northern Europe, eastern Canada, and the northeastern United States.3. Breeding sites are typically located on steep, rocky cliffs and offshore islands, providing the birds with protection from predators and ample nesting space.

In the non-breeding season, Black-legged Kittiwakes venture further out to sea, often migrating considerable distances to find food and suitable wintering grounds, sometimes as far south as the tropics. Their preferred habitats include productive marine environments, such as upwelling zones and areas with abundant fish stocks, which provide the birds with the resources they need to thrive.



  1. The Black-legged Kittiwake is known for its distinctive call, which sounds like "kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake," giving the bird its name.
  2. These birds are known to live up to 20 years or more in the wild, with a complex annual life cycle that includes migration, breeding, and raising young.
  3. Black-legged Kittiwakes are well-adapted to cold environments, with a layer of insulating feathers and specialized nasal glands that allow them to excrete excess salt from their diet of marine prey.
  4. Unlike many other gull species, Black-legged Kittiwakes rarely scavenge from human sources, relying primarily on their natural prey and foraging abilities.
  5. The global population of Black-legged Kittiwakes is estimated to be around 6 million birds, with some populations facing threats such as habitat loss, climate change, and overfishing of their food sources.


Ecosystem Services

As predators of fish and other marine creatures, Black-legged Kittiwakes play a vital role in maintaining the balance of their marine ecosystems by helping to control prey populations. These birds also serve as an essential food source for various predators, including larger birds of prey, mammals, and even some marine species, contributing to the overall health and biodiversity of their ecosystems.

Black-legged Kittiwakes help transport nutrients from marine environments to their coastal nesting sites, enriching the soil and promoting the growth of vegetation that supports other wildlife. Their large colonies and characteristic behaviors can attract ecotourism, contributing to local economies and promoting the conservation of their habitats and the broader ecosystems they inhabit. As an indicator species, the health and population trends of Black-legged Kittiwakes can provide valuable insights into the overall health of the marine ecosystems they inhabit, helping to inform conservation and management efforts.



The Black-legged Kittiwake is a captivating and unique seabird, with a fascinating array of adaptations that allow it to thrive in its marine environment. Through this extensive educational blog, we have explored various aspects of this remarkable bird species, from its size and shape to its behavior and habitat. By understanding and appreciating the Black-legged Kittiwake's role in its ecosystem, we can better protect and conserve these birds and their habitats for future generations to enjoy. So, the next time you find yourself near the coast, keep an eye out for the graceful flight of the Black-legged Kittiwake and marvel at the wonders of the natural world.