Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake Breeding Adults
Black-legged Kittiwake – Breeding Adults
Black-legged Kittiwake Breeding Adult in Flight (Showing black wingtips)
Black-legged Kittiwake – Breeding Adult in Flight (Showing black wingtips)

Black-legged Kittiwakes spend their lives almost entirely on the open ocean.

Breeding adult Black-legged Kittiwakes are elegant-looking seabirds with white heads, necks, and underparts, yellow bills, pale gray backs and wings, and short, black legs. In flight, their black wingtips are visible. 

Nonbreeding adults look similar except that they have a small, black patch behind their eyes. 

Immature Black-legged Kittiwakes have black bills, black patches behind the eyes and a black collar at the back of the neck. In flight, they display a striking “M” pattern on their backs. They also have a black band on the tips of their tails. 

  • Rissa tridactyla
  • Length: 15.0 – 16.1 in (38 – 41 cm)
  • Weight: 10.8 – 18.5 oz (305 – 525 g)
  • Wingspan: 37.0 in (94 cm)


Black-legged Kittiwakes are out at sea in winter but during the breeding season they are found on sea cliffs in Canada and Alaska.

Habitat And Diet

You can find Black-legged Kittiwakes among their dense nesting colonies in ledges of seaside cliffs and islands without mammalian predators. As they spend their time mostly in the open ocean, they can be hard to spot.

They may occasionally land on ocean beaches or at large inland lakes and reservoirs. 

Black-legged Kittiwakes regularly eat small fish which they capture while flying over the surface of the water. They will dive into the water or grab them while sitting on the surface. They sometimes eat small squid, marine worms, and jellyfish. 

Black-legged Kittiwake Calls:


Nests of Black-legged Kittiwakes are almost always on rocky cliff ledges away from ground predators. They may also nest on boulders or on the ground if there are no predators around. The male brings mud, grasses, and seaweed as the female creates a mound with a shallow depression at the center with them.

She will then lay one to three eggs but both parents will share in the incubation for twenty-five to twenty-eight days. The young remain in the nest and are fed by their parents until they’re ready to fly in about thirty-four to fifty-eight days.

Fun Fact:

The “Kittiwake” in its name is because of its call. The “tridactyla” means three-toed because the Black-legged Kittiwake’s hind toe is just a tiny bump, so it has three toes instead of four.