The first Kittiwakes, rissa tridactyla, arrived in Staithes yesterday, 29th March a little later this year, they arrived on 20th March in 2011 and 16th March in 2012. Their normal habitat is usually well out to sea, they only come ashore to breed. Kittiwakes have a very distinctive voice, ‘kitti-wake’ or kala-week’ making the colonies very noisy places indeed.
Kittiwakes breed in colonies on narrow rock ledges of steep cliffs, making the end of Cowbar Nab the perfect nesting site for the kittiwakes & human observers alike. Later in the year the house martins build their nests under the ledges below the kittiwake colony, using mud from the harbour. With all this bird activity, including jackdaws and pigeons, this makes it a peregrine ‘fast’ food take-away. However, the kittiwakes main colony is on the north facing cliff which is growing year on year leading to a lack of suitable nesting sites hence the extension of the colony round onto the end of the Cowbar Nab within Staithes Harbour.
The Kittiwake nest is built by both the male and female birds, it’s made up of seaweed, moss and other plant material and it is normal held together with either mud or clay, making for a very sturdy nest. Again just like the House Martins, keep an eye out for kittiwakes collecting the mud from the harbour and taking it back to the nest sites.
Normal only two eggs are laid in May or June with both birds taking turns to sit on the nest. The usual incubation is around 20 days, the young birds then remain in the nest until they can fly. During this time the young kittiwakes are fed by both parents, it takes around 30 days before the young are ready to leave the nest. When all the young birds are ready to fly the whole colony will leave together, leaving the cliffs very bare and incredible quiet.
Kittiwakes eat mainly fish, often scavenged from around fishing boats, mainly picking up food from the surface. Though kittiwakes will also plunge for food they mainly obtain their food while in flight from the water’s surface.
Kittiwakes pictures showing them gathering nesting material out of Staithes beck here….