Kittiwakes: Northern Urban Birds
During the Summer months, the NewcastleGateshead quayside is home to 600 pairs of breeding Kittiwakes. These seabirds create a spectacular show with their loud calls, graceful flight and chick-rearing dramas.
Normally found on coastal cliffs, the Tyne Kittiwakes seem to prefer urban life. This colony is the furthest inland anywhere and makes Newcastle one of the few cities in the world to have a seabird colony in its centre.
The Tyne Kittiwakes create an amazing wildlife spectacle in the heart of the city. There are excellent views of the birds and their nests from the viewing platform on the fourth floor of the Baltic art gallery, from the paths on the Tyne Bridge or at the Kittiwake Tower at Saltmeadows Riverside.
During the breeding season Kittiwakes feed on small fish which they catch near the surface of the sea. Although the Kittiwakes have set up home in the middle of the city they still catch their food at the coast.
Results from satellite tracking devices show that the Kittiwakes fly far out to sea off the Northumberland Coast to fish, which means they make a 100-mile round trip.
Kittiwakes spend most of the year out at sea, travelling as far as Canada, but every March they return to the Tyne to breed.
Kittiwakes nest in large colonies, usually on narrow ledges on sea cliffs around the coast. However they will also nest on man-made structures that provide a similar type of habitat, such as buildings, bridges and offshore oil platforms.
Nobody quite knows why the first Kittiwakes wandered so far up the Tyne in the 1960s but they clearly like it here.
Kittiwakes breed around the Northern seas of Europe, North America and Asia and there are thought to be 360,000 pairs in the UK. In some places, such as Scotland, colonies have declined in recent years because of a shortage of their preferred prey of Sandeels.
Words and images by Ian Cook
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