Skip Navigation

Species Search:
FieldGuidesthreatened and/or endangered search resultsthreatened and/or endangered

previous  | next

Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla


enlarge +

Black-legged Kittiwake
credit: Andreas Trepte/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

All Images


Get Our Newsletters


Advanced Search

Family: Laridae, Gulls and Terns view all from this family

Description ADULT SUMMER Has pale gray back and upper wings, except for white trailing edge and well-defined black wingtips. Plumage is otherwise white and bill is yellow. ADULT WINTER Similar, but has gray nape and blackish patch on rear of crown. JUVENILE Has gray back and inner upper wing with black line running across coverts and along leading edge of primaries; these two colors contrast with white triangle on trailing half of wing but pattern does not form the clear three triangles of color seen in juvenile Sabine's. Note the black half collar, black tip to tail, and black bill.

Dimensions Length: 16-18" (41-46 cm)

Habitat Locally common, nesting colonially on sea cliffs on Canadian Atlantic coast. Winters at sea, range extending south down much of Atlantic seaboard.

Observation Tips Easy to see at seabird colonies within breeding range, mainly May-Aug, and a visit to one of these (e.g. Cape St. Mary, Newfoundland) is a "must" for any birdwatcher. At other times, seen from land only during severe gales, but found regularly on pelagic trips to offshore Atlantic waters from fall to spring.

Range Eastern Canada, Alaska, Florida, Western Canada, Great Lakes, California, Northwest, Plains, Southwest, New England, Rocky Mountains, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Texas

Voice Utters diagnostic kitti-wake call at colonies.

Discussion Elegant, marine gull with buoyant, rather stiff-winged flight and short black legs. Adult is fairly easy to recognize and in flight typically appears very pale with wingtips that look like they have been dipped into black paint. Juvenile recalls juvenile Sabine's Gull but can be separated by differences in upper wing pattern. Sexes are similar.