June 17, 2024

Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)

A small, perfectly formed gull. Unlike their heftier, noisier, cousins the Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Kittiwakes are only associated with coastal areas. You won’t find them chasing tractors or looting chicken dinner scraps from black bags on landfill sites. Instead, during the breeding season, they can be found in large, cliff ledge colonies but from August onwards they head back out to the Atlantic, where they spend the entire winter at sea.

This “spending the winter at sea” lark is something I’ve only just really started to wonder about. I’ve long accepted that auks like Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills spend the winter at sea, but what can that actually mean? Surely being at sea during a storm is a bit hazardous, so apart from bobbing about like a cork, which I suppose may be quite a good defense, though probably not good for getting your full sleep quota, how on earth do these birds manage? If anyone out there has any ides I’d love to hear them. Google thus far isn’t shedding much light on the subject, but if I do find out, I’ll do a follow up.

A quick note about the first picture. Although the framing is at best a bit off, possibly the kind of view you’d get if it was bobbing on the sea, I find the intimacy of being able to see the fiddly little details intoxicating. The delicate blood red eye liner and gape line, alongside the faintest of white scallops defining the shape of the pale grey wing feathers, is deeply rewarding to me.

Portraits can’t always be totally perfect and if not, they won’t win the wildlife photographer of the year, but as long as they’re revealing, they’re doing they’re job in my book.


  1. I love the first photo, as you say the detail is amazing and the off framing adds something to the shot. Kittiwakes are beautiful birds, I read somewhere that they nest in the centre of Newcastle (?) although elsewhere as you say they’re true coastal birds.