Birds – Gulls

(Subfamily Larinae) Kittiwake

(Rissa tridactyla) Length—16 inches.

Male and Female—ln summer: Deep pearl gray mantle over back and wings. Head, neck, tail, and under parts pure white. Ends of outer wing feathers—primaries—black, tipped with white. Tips of tail quills black. Hind toe very small, a mere knob, and without a claw. Bill light yellow. Feet webbed and black. In winter: Similar to summer plumage, but that the mantle is a darker gray and extends to back of neck. Dark spot about the eye.

Range-Arctic regions, south in eastern North America in winter to the Great Lakes and the coast of Virginia. Breeds from Magdalen Islands northward.

Season—Autumn and winter visitor in the Middle States. Common north of them all winter.

It is the larger herring gull that we see in such numbers in our harbors and following in the path of vessels along our coast; but the watchful eye may often pick out a few kittiwakes in the loose flocks, and north of Rhode Island meet with a company of them apart from others of their kin. Skimming gracefully along the surface of the water, soaring, floating in mid-air, swooping for a morsel in the trough of the waves, then with a few strong wing strokes rejoining their fellows as they play at cross-tag in the sky, the gulls fascinate the eyes and beguile many a weary hour at sea.

Along the shores of the Arctic Ocean, on the craggy cliffs of Greenland, and beyond, large colonies of kittiwakes nest on the ledges of rock barely scattered over with grass, moss, and sea-weed to form a rude nest, or else directly on the sand in the midst of a little heap of “drift” cast high up on the beach. Three or four eggs, varying from bully to grayish brown, and marked with chocolate, are often taken from a nest by the natives, who, with the jaegers and the sea eagles that also devour the young, are the

kittiwakes’ worst enemies. Fearlessly breasting a gale on the open ocean, sleeping with head under wing while riding the waves, the gull is far more at home at sea than ashore, and soon leaves the nest to begin its roving life at sea.

Their service to man, aside from the gulls’ aesthetic value, is in devouring refuse that would otherwise wash ashore and pollute the air. This is the gull that the jaegers, those dusky pirates of the high seas, most persecute by taking away its fish and other food to save themselves the trouble of hunting in the legitimate way.1