Thursday, 4 December 2014

Pictures of Kittiwakes on Bempton Cliffs

Kittiwakes: Britains smallest gull

RSPB Bempton Cliffs is a wonderful reserve to visit and some of my favourites are the kittiwakes. I hope you enjoy sharing this photo journal.

adult kittiwake on cliff
Adult Kittiwake having a stretch


It is not surprising these charming birds are much loved. They are so elegant looking and they are packed with personality.
In this photo journal are original pictures of Kittiwakes gulls with their chicks. These were taken at the RSPB bird reserve at Bemptom Cliffs Yorkshire. If you have not visited there yet, try to go, especially during the breeding season from around March to July. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Alongside my pictures I've included some interesting facts about these little gulls that I'm sure will fascinate you.
Kittiwakes may be the smallest of Britain's seagulls but they are also one of the loudest. These elegant little birds delight birdwatchers with their aerial displays and their loud calls. Indeed their name came from the sound they make - a high nasalkitt - i - awa - ake that rings loudly around the crowded nest sites. Sometimes their call sounds like "have you seen it", quite appropriate for birders. At RSPB Bempton hundreds of Kittiwakes come to breed on impossibly narrow cliff ledges every year.
Scroll down to enjoy the Kittiwake pictures at their best. Just a note to mention that all the photographs are by me annmackiemiller and are copyrighted to me. I have posted them in small resolution so they cannot be copied and enlarged. If you want copies just contact me of visit my Zazzle Store to see them on cards and gifts. 

What do adult Kittiwakes looks like?

adult kittiwake with chicks on cliff nest
adult kittiwake with chicks in their cliff nest
Adult Kittiwakes are roughly the same size as a pigeon. They have smooth white heads, necks and breasts and have a particularly endearing calm expression. On close inspection a red ring can be seen around the black eye. The bill is yellow with a greenish tinge. The back and wings are silvery-grey with a lighter grey toward the edge of the narrow wings and a sharp black triangle at the tips. They have short black legs but in summer the breeding adults may have a reddish-brown tinge to their legs. In winter the adults develop a dusky ear spot and the nape of the neck becomes a duller grey.

What do Kittiwake chicks look like?

kittiwake chick on nest
kittiwake chick at Bempton Cliffs
As one would expect, Kittiwake chicks are beautiful little birds. The white head and neck is interrupted with black patches, one, a dark ear-spot and the other a black half-collar. The sharp bill is black, the eye is black and the legs and feet are black. The youngsters also have ziz-zag black markings on the wings when wing feathers develop, Back and under parts are grey while the breast is white.
Juvenile Kittiwakes lose the black half-collar by their first spring. By their second year they are losing more of the black on the wings as adult feathers develop.

What do Kittiwakes eat?

Kittiwakes mostly eat fish that they catch in shallow dives, sandeels are popular in summer as are other invertebrates. The chicks are fed by regurgitation by the adult. At times it is as if the whole chick's head disappears into the adult's mouth when getting fed. Both adults appear to fed the young.
This picture is pretty bad but I wanted to include them just to let you see the process. 
adult kittiwake regurgitating food for chick
adult kittiwake regurgitating food for her chick

Information about Kittiwakes: Geek stuff

  • Order: Charadriformes
  • Family: Laridae
  • Species: Rissa tridactyla
  • Common Name: Kittiwake
  • Length: 15-16 inches
  • Wingspan: 37-43 inches
  • Weight: 10-18 ounces
  • Breeding: 2 eggs in small nests on narrow ledges
  • Incubation: 27 days
  • Fledge: 42 days
Found in coastal regions of Europe, including Scandanavia and Iceland, down to the Mediterranean. In winter many move into the North Atlantic although some may stay in Britain.

Kittiwake nesting and breeding

Kittiwakes spend most of their lives far out to sea, only coming ashore to nest and breed. Huge colonies can be found on sheer cliff edges. Since they much prefer vertical edges to site their nests it is not uncommon to find them on high building edges in towns at the coast.
The adults build shallow nests of weeds, grass and mud on seemingly impossibly narrow ledges and the female will lay one or two eggs. They brood only once every year but may lay their two eggs days apart so one chick hatches before the other. The incubation period is approximately 27-28 days, a little under a month.
The chicks are fed in the nest by the adults by regurgitation and they will fledge after about 40-42 days. It is a common sight to see the young birds strengthening their wings on the limited ledge spaces they have.
kittiwake chicks
young kittiwakes on the nest
nesting kittiwakes
kittiwakes nesting on cliffs
These are really elegant little birds with bundles of personality. They meet and greet and do lots of bill rubbing on the nest and they seem to just love playing on the thermals that come off the cliffs. I've been lucky enough to see them all over the place - they nest on the cliffs below walkways in Crail and St Andrews and of course, they play in abundance at Arbroath cliffs and on the Isle of May.


kittiewake with chicks on nest
Adult Kittiwake with chicks on cliff-edge nest

kittiwake chick stretching wings
Kittiwake chick stretching wings as feathers begin to form

kittiwake chicks
sleepy times for one at least - kittiwake chicks

kittiwake chicks
Kittiwake chicks on cliff-edge nest

Kittiwakes at Bempton Cliffs

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