Saturday 20th June comments: The cliffs of the Isle of May are packed with seabirds and one of the most iconic species to nest is the Kittiwake. These graceful gulls nest on the precarious outcrops on the island having returned in late March. Nest building activity started in mid-May and the first eggs were laid soon after (with an average clutch size of two). The first chicks started hatching on 14th June and now we have plenty of youngsters across the colonies.
Kittiwake chicks are born precocial (the young are relatively mature and have the ability to be mobile from the moment of birth) and are downy and white in colour. This downy plumage will start to be replaced by feathering after just five days after hatching and will take approximately thirty-five days to fledgling stage. The plumage of youngsters is distinct, as it has a black bill and black ‘W’ across its back and upper wings. Chicks will come back to the nest for several weeks after fledging and will eventually follow the adults at sea where they spend the winter. Kittiwakes reach sexual maturity at around 4–5 years old. Kittiwakes eventually leave the Isle of May waters in September-October.
Over the last twenty years the British Isles has seen a 44% reduction in the population of Kittiwakes (a huge concern for conservationists) and this has been mirrored on colonies like the Isle of May. Overall 3,061 pairs nested last year, but way down on the 8,000 that once did. Despite this, they have had reasonable successful breeding seasons of recent so there may be cause for some optimism for a brighter future. With counting underway we should know the population size for this season in the near future and as ever we’ll keep you posted.