Arctic species: Black-legged Kittiwake

After being far too quiet for a while, I like to start a new species. As I know many people are looking forward to making a trip to the Arctic this summer (and I don’t have too many recent photo’s), I decided to start a new series about the different species one can find in the Arctic. Today number one: the Black-legged Kittiwake

Probably the only species where the young birds look more pretty as the adults

Being the most numerous species of Gull on Spitsbergen, it’s a species that is hard to miss. Whether you are in the pack ice, or somewhere in the fjords or even around Longyearbyen, chances are you will find groups flying around or foraging. They mainly feed on small crustaceans or other marine invertebrates or small fish. Often you can find them feeding in the fjords, especially where fresh glacier water meets the saltier fjord water or at glacier fronts. They are also often seen following ships in the pack ice, taking advantage of the ship pushing away ice floes, exposing the Polar Cod that usually seeks shelter underneath these flows.

Adult Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake – Rissa tridactyla
Length: 37-42cm, wingspan: 93-105cm
Medium sized gull with grey upper wings and clear black wingtips.
Sound: he often calls his own name: Kitti-wake-kitti-wake

Kittiwakes breed in large colonies on steep cliffs to avoid predation by Polar Bears of Arctic Foxes. In some places, like Pyramiden, they also breed in the windows of the abandoned buildings.

Kittiwakes in the colony at Diskobukta


Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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