Rissa tridactyla (Linnaeus, 1758) KI KITTI 6020
Family: Charadriiformes > Laridae

This medium-sized seabird is our most numerous gull species, and also our most maritime, spending much of the non-breeding season on the high seas of the Atlantic Ocean.

Breeding adults have a white head and body with a mid-grey mantle and wings. They also have distinctive, jet black 'ink-dipped' wing tips. Kittiwakes take three years to attain full adult plumage.

The main breeding strongholds are in Scotland, especially Orkney, Shetland and the north-west coast.


Kittiwake identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Kittiwake.

related video

Identifying Kittiwake and other small gulls

Young Kittiwakes have a distinctive wing pattern, but several sought-after rarer species have similar markings - how can you tell them apart?

This video looks at several Gulls in juvenile plumage- Kittiwake, Little Gull, Black-headed Gull, Sabine's Gull and Ross's Gull.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Kittiwake, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


Flight call


Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



The Kittiwake population increased by 24% between the 1969–70 and 1985–88 Censuses, but these increases had been reversed by the time of Seabird 2000 (1998–2002). Ongoing annual monitoring show that further substantial declines have since occurred and it is expected that the results of the Seabirds Count (2015–2021) will confirm this (JNCC 2022)


Kittiwakes predominantly breed on coasts with rocky cliffs, though man-made structures can be used, including the only colonies in East Anglia. The highest densities are on the British east coast, particularly between Flamborough Head and Orkney. Kittiwakes are mostly pelagic in the non-breeding season so most winter records are from vantage points along the British and Irish coastlines. During 2007–11 concentrations were greatest in southwest Ireland, southwest Wales and the Northern Isles.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Since the 1970s Kittiwake range has contracted by 10%, associated with an almost halving of the British breeding population. Losses are thought to be associated with changes in prey availability.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Kittiwakes are recorded year-round, though more consistently in the breeding season on coasts near breeding areas.

Weekly occurence of Kittiwake from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Kittiwake ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Kittiwake, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Ruideag
Welsh: Gwylan Goesddu
Catalan: gavineta de tres dits
Czech: racek tríprstý
Danish: Ride
Dutch: Drieteenmeeuw
Estonian: kaljukajakas
Finnish: pikkukajava
French: Mouette tridactyle
German: Dreizehenmöwe
Hungarian: csüllo
Icelandic: Rita
Irish: Saidhbhéar
Italian: Gabbiano tridattilo
Latvian: trispirkstu kaija
Lithuanian: tripirštis kiras
Norwegian: Krykkje
Polish: mewa trójpalczasta
Portuguese: gaivota-tridáctila
Slovak: cajka trojprstá
Slovenian: triprsti galeb
Spanish: Gaviota tridáctila
Swedish: tretåig mås
Folkname: Annett, Tarrock


Interpretation and scientific publications about Kittiwake from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

There is good evidence that the declines in the Kittiwake population are likely to have been driven by low breeding productivity which is likely to be related to changes in sandeel populations (Coulson 1983, Frederiksen et al. 2005, Coulson 2017, McMurdo Hamilton et al. 2016). Sandeel stocks, and therefore breeding success of Kittiwakes and other seabirds, may be affected by the impact of fisheries and also by changes to sea surface temperatures due to climate change. Hence, management of fisheries may be necessary to maintain Kittiwake populations (Furness & Tasker 2000).


Peer-reviewed papers

Field metabolic rates of Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla during incubation and chick-rearing

1998 | Thomson, D.L., Furness, R.W. & Monaghan, P.Ardea

Peer-reviewed papers
Kittiwake, Richard Jackson.

Methods to quantify avian airspace use in relation to wind energy development

Assessing the effects of wind farms on wildlife

2021 | Largey, N., Cook, A.S.C.P., Thaxter, C.B., McCluskie, A., Stokke, B.G., Wilson, B. & Masden, E.A.Ibis

New research involving BTO has developed a framework to identify how wildlife might be affected by renewable energy developments.

Links to more information from

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