Black-Legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

As this gull spends most of its time on the open ocean, it is not often seen from shore. It is the only gull that dives and swims underwater in pursuit of its food!


At about 45 cm in length, the male and female of this gull species are similar in size although the male is slightly heavier. Its breeding and winter plumage are only minimally distinguishable. Its back and wings are grey and the wings are tipped with black forming black triangles in flight. Its head, underparts, and tail are white, its bill is yellow, and, as its name suggests, its legs are black.


The black-legged kittiwake breeds in the High Arctic, mostly along the Pacific coastline of Alaska, Baffin Island, and Greenland. It can also be found year-round on the Alaskan Pacific coast, and in the northern Maritimes. Wintering birds inhabit both the Atlantic and Pacific North American coasts, and occasionally wander up the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes.


This species nests in colonies on rocky cliffs near the sea. Its nest is made of mud and algae that are stuck to bare rock and lined with grass and moss. One to three eggs are laid in the nest and require between 21 to 24 days to hatch. The young first flies at about 5 weeks of age.

The black-legged kittiwake's diet includes mostly marine fish, but crustaceans, mollusks, and occasionally offal are also consumed. When feeding, the black-legged kittiwake dips along the surface or dives down from high above. This species also pecks food from the ground.