Black legged kittiwake at Skálanes, 2015

(Black legged kittiwake at Skálanes, 2015)

(Photo above by Brian Sullivan, Neotropical Birds Online,

Black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are a medium-sized member of the gull and tern family. They have white bodies and heads, and adults have pale grey wings with black tips. Adults also have yellow beaks. Juveniles can be identified by their black beaks, black stripes on the back of the neck, along the tops of the wings, and on the tip of the tail. Both adults and juveniles have black legs and feet.

Like many seabirds in Iceland, the black-legged kittiwake feeds mostly on fish, shrimp, worms, and fish offal. At Skálanes their diet consists largely of sand eels. They hunt by picking their prey from near the surface of the water while flying.

The black-legged kittiwake is found all around the coast of Iceland in the winter, although it may be less common as many individuals go to see between breeding periods. In summer the black-legged kittiwake breeds on rocky cliffs, often in large colonies with other species of birds. At Skálanes they breed alongside the northern fulmars on a coastal cliff. They can also be seen along the coast of the UK and Ireland in late summer and autumn, either foraging or nesting.

The kittiwake had a population boom in the 20th century but is now declining in number, likely as a result of habitat loss and changes in prey behaviour or population size as a result of climate change. This year the Iceland Expedition will continue monitoring the breeding colony at Skálanes, a project that the Iceland Expedition has carried out for many years. This allows for comparison of numbers between different years, and identification of trends and changes in population size.


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