name = Kittiwakes
image_width = 240px
image_caption = Black-legged Kittiwakes, "Rissa tridactyla", nesting on the
Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
familia = Laridae
genus = "Rissa"
genus_authority = Stephens,
subdivision_ranks = Species
subdivision = "Rissa tridactyla" "Rissa brevirostris"
The kittiwakes (
genus"Rissa") are two closely related seabirdspecies in the gullfamily Laridae, the Black-legged Kittiwake("R. tridactyla") and the Red-legged Kittiwake("R. brevirostris"). The epithets "Black-legged" and "Red-legged" are used to distinguish the two species in North America, but in Europe, where "R. brevirostris" is not found, the Black-legged Kittiwake is often known simply as Kittiwake, or more colloquially in some areas as Tickleass or Tickleace. The name is derived from its call, a shrill 'kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake'.
Habitat and range
Kittiwakes are coastal breeding birds ranging in the
North Pacific, North Atlanticand Arctic oceans. They form large, dense, noisy colonies during the summer reproductive period, often sharing habitat with murres. They are the only gull species that are exclusively cliff-nesting.
The Black-legged Kittiwake is one of the most numerous of seabirds. Breeding colonies can be found in the Pacific from the
Kuril Islands, around the coast of the Sea of Okhotskthroughout the Bering Seaand the Aleutian Islandsto southeast Alaska, [ru icon Artyukhin Yu.B. and V.N. Burkanov (1999). "Sea birds and mammals of the Russian Far East: a Field Guide", Мoscow: АSТ Publishing – 215 p.] and in the Atlantic from the Gulf of St. Lawrencethrough Greenlandand the coast of Great Britaindown to Portugal, as well as in the high Arctic islands. [ [http://www.jncc.gov.uk/pdf/UKSPA/UKSPA-A6-87.pdf U.K. Joint Nature Conservation Committee Report] ] In the winter, the range extends further south and out to sea.
In sharp contrast, the Red-legged Kittiwake has a very limited range in the
Bering Sea, breeding only on the Pribilof, Bogoslof and Buldirislands in the USA, and the Commander Islandsin Russia. On these islands, it shares some of the same cliff habitat as the Black-legged Kittiwake, though there is some localized segregation between the species on given cliffs.
The two species are physically very similar. They have a white head and body, grey back, grey wings tipped solid black and a yellow bill. Black-legged Kittiwake adults are somewhat larger (roughly 40 cm in length with a wingspan of 90-100 cm) than Red-legged Kittiwakes (35-40 cm in length with a wingspan around 84-90 cm). Other differences include a shorter bill, larger eyes, a larger, rounder head and darker grey wings in the Red-legged Kittiwake. While most Black-legged Kittiwakes do, indeed, have dark-grey legs, some have pinkish-grey to reddish legs, making colouration a somewhat unreliable identifying marker.
In contrast to the dappled chicks of other gull species, kittiwake chicks are downy and white since they are under relatively little threat of predation. Juveniles take three years to reach maturity. When in winter plumage, both birds have a dark grey smudge behind the eye and a grey hind-neck collar. The sexes are visually indistinguishable.
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