Black-legged Kittiwake
(Rissa tridactyla)


Picture of bird
© Jukka Jantunen (
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

Black-legged Kittiwakes breed colonially on sea cliffs. In Canada, breeding colonies are concentrated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the waters around Newfoundland and in the High Arctic. Trends vary among colonies and regions, but overall, the population abundance in Canada has changed little relative to about 1970. Because the birds feed at or near the surface of the water, this species is highly susceptible to anthropogenic or climate-induced changes in the abundance or availability of prey. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Vulnerable2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLittle ChangeMediumNot Applicable
Black-legged Kittiwake, Arctic populationModerate IncreaseMediumAt an Acceptable Level
Black-legged Kittiwake, Atlantic populationModerate DecreaseMediumBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada400,000 - 500,000 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

Conservation and management

Changes to prey availability have been greatly impacting the Black-legged Kittiwake. Warming marine ecosystems on the European side of the Arctic have likely created a diet shift, from Arctic prey species to a mixed diet of Atlantic species (Vihtakari et al. 2018). Changes in the availability of prey species or fishing practices may adversely affect its breeding success (Hatch et al. 2009). Range-wide population declines in the late 1990s are thought to be related to cascading change through the marine food web caused by abruptly warming oceans during that time period; shifts in plankton communities resulted in changes in the availabilty of small fish, its favourite prey (Descamps et al. 2017). This may have affected the Black-legged Kittiwake through reduced food availability and increased predation by large gulls, which is exacerbated when bait fish populations are low (Massaro et al. 2001, Descamps et al. 2017).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves , sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NL -- Other
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NB -- Conservation
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Conservation