Living Coasts has another breeding success to its name. Torquay’s coastal zoo has hatched a black-legged kittiwake. This is the first time the charity zoo has bred this beautiful seabird, which is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Keeper Lisa Jones: “As far as I’m aware, we’re the only collection in the UK to hold and breed this species. Only a few collections in the world have this bird.” Living Coasts is working with the shorebird Taxon Advisory Group (a TAG manages the conservation of groups of similar species) to learn more about kittiwakes in zoos.
Lisa: “It’s important, as this species used to be common around the world, but this year their status has changed to Vulnerable due to a severe population decline. Climate change has reduced their food supplies, so breeding success and adult survival has dropped.
“The UK breeding success has dropped by nearly 44%, and the whole population has dropped by around 60% since the 80s. With their numbers declining so quickly, it’s important that we can maintain viable captive populations and try to learn more about their behaviour, to help us protect them in the wild.”
The unusual name comes from its call, which is a shrill ‘kittee-wa-aaake, kitte-wa-aaake’ sound. Living Coasts was previously home to female red legged kittiwakes; a pair of black legged kittiwakes arrived in 2015. Living Coasts Curator Clare Rugg: “They’ve established good pair bonds and matured and have now bred, which is great news. We are extremely pleased to have bred them and hope to continue to do so. And the good news is, there are more eggs, but they are up on a ledge and the keepers don’t want to disturb the birds too much at this stage.”
This bird is known as a black-legged kittiwake in North America, where there’s also a red-legged kittiwake; in Europe it’s the only member of the genus, and is often known simply as a kittiwake. It’s a fish feeder, and doesn’t scavenge at landfill like some gull species. The kittiwakes can be seen at Auk Cliff. For more information go to www.livingcoasts.org.uk or ring 01803 202470.