The Kittiwake nests are all empty now in Scarborough; on the cliffs and in the town, the birds have all gone. Long gone. Gone to sea.
Katie did not want to go to sea; she wanted to stay on her ledge above Marks and Spencer and try all the lovely food her gull-friends on the roofs around her were eating. But it was not to be. Her parents had looked after her and fed her well all through the summer, but now they were tired and needed a break. They wanted to go to sea. Katie would either have to come with them or look after herself, but she was quite incapable of finding food. Walking about the town begging for chips, like the herring gulls, looked like fun, but she didn’t think she could do it. Her legs were too short and she was not cut out for street life. Reluctantly, she came to conclusion that Yes, it was time to go. So one day in late August they all set off.
Katie had been down to the sea a few times with her parents. She had had a go at sitting on the ocean and trying to peck at the occasional morsel that passed by, but she had never really been out to sea. She had not flown far out, far away from the land. She had just jumped in and out, and sat on the sea wall smelling the ocean and watching all the other gulls.
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) Andrew C [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
This time was different. Her parents looked serious and in no mood to put up with her reservations. Her Dad, Harold, said: ‘Come on Katie. If you don’t come with us now, you will sit here and starve. A Kittiwake has to go out to the sea. The ocean is where we really belong. You’ll see.’ So off they went; flying high and further out than Katie had ever been before.
A lot of other gulls were leaving Scarborough at the same time, and soon they joined up with others in a large flock, heading north along the coast. The were soon joined by some other Kittiwakes flying over from the land. ‘Where do you come from?’ Katie asked one of them. ‘Newcastle’ he replied, in a strange accent she had not heard before. ‘Ooh eye, its great there said one of the older gulls; we have nests on a bridge, high above the river’. ‘Oh I was born on a bridge’ said one of the other birds from Scarborough. ‘It’s great, you have a lovely view and it’s very safe. There were so many of us, all close together on the bridge.’ ‘Sounds just like Newcastle’ said the newcomer. ‘So we have something in common then’ he said, flying closer to the bird from Scarborough who happened to be a female. ‘Perhaps we should stick together for a while’ he smiled. Yes Kittiwakes can smile, only they can see it. Humans don’t know what a Kittiwake smile is!
In winter. many kittiwakes move in small flocks …. Some flocks include both adults and first-year birds, but I doubt if there is any kinship between the individuals, as pairs and their offspring separate once they leave the colony in autumn. (Coulson, 2011).
After joining up with all the new birds from Newcastle, Katie looked around to see where her Mum and Dad had gone. They weren’t there. She couldn’t see them anywhere. ‘Where’s my Mum and Dad?’ screamed Katie! They’ve gone!
‘You are on your own now’ said one of the older birds from Newcastle. ‘You probably won’t see them again until next year now.’
Since Kittiwakes are not fed by their parents after they leave the nest sites, successful (and rapid) dispersal to good feeding sites is probably critical for the survival of the juvenile birds. (Wernham et al., 2002).
‘How am I going to survive!’ moaned Katie. ‘I don’t even know how to catch fish!’ ‘Don’t worry’ said the older bird. ‘Stick with us and we’ll show you. You’ll soon get the hang of it’. ‘Yea stick with us’ said some of the other juveniles. ‘Our parents have left us as well! We’ll be OK if we stick together’. So off they flew; a small flock of adults and juveniles, not related, but with a shared purpose and common interest. Flying into the unknown, but armed with the instincts and adaptations millions of years of evolution had provided them with. Enough to give them more than a sporting chance of surviving in this new world.
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) at Splashpoint, West Sussex, England. Ron Knight [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D
Katie and her companions flew north helped by a strong wind blowing from the south-west. They made rapid progress and were soon up near the coast of Norway.
‘My Dad came from Norway’ said Katie, excitedly. ‘Let’s go and find him! ‘It will be like looking for a needle in a haystack’ said one of the older birds. ‘What’s a needle and what’s a haystack said Katie’, confused. ‘Forget it’ said the older bird. Stick with us and we will look after you’. ‘OK’ said Katie, looking wistfully across to the foreign shoreline they were flying next to.
‘We are going to go much further north, and then we will head over to Greenland for the winter’. Greenland sounds nice thought Katie. It should be warm there by the sound of it. Little did she know!
Some young Kittiwakes probably remain on the other side of the Atlantic, off Newfoundland and Greenland (Wernham et al., 2002).
They flew on, stopping off to rest and feed on the surface of the sea at night. Eventually the reached a new land. A strange place with huge cliffs and thousands and thousands – hundreds of thousands – of Kittiwakes. Katie had never seen so many Kittiwakes. They joined up with the huge flocks and Katie started chatting to some of the other juvenile birds.
Hundreds of thousands of Kittiwakes nest at Diskobukta on Barent’s Island (Barenstøya), Svalbard Archipelago, where they are preyed upon by Arctic foxes.
‘Where do come from’ asked one of them. ‘Scarborough’ said Katie.
‘Where is that?!’ the other bird asked. ‘It’s a town far to the south from here. I was brought up on a ledge above Marks and Spencer’ said Katie. What’s that?’ said the other bird. ‘It’s a shop’ said Katie. ‘That sells food’.
‘Are there foxes there?’ said the newcomer. ‘Well a few’ said Katie, ‘but we don’t see them much’. ‘Here the foxes try and eat you’ said the local bird. It’s a nightmare I can tell you. My sister was taken by a fox. I can’t wait to get away from the land and head out to sea!’
So off they flew travelling west this time. Soon they saw something floating in the sea. ‘What’s that?’ asked Katie. ‘It’s ice stupid! Haven’t you ever seen ice before?’ ‘No’ said Katie. It looked very strange, and she was not sure if she liked it. ‘Look, you can stand on it’ said one of her new friends’ swooping down and landing on a small lump of ice.
In winter, some Kittiwakes remain as far north as the Arctic Circle, so how do these birds feed and survive in the total darkness? The answer is not known. Some may feed behind fishing boats using floodlights, whilst others may be attracted to luminous prey. (Coulson, 2011).
Black-legged_Kittiwake_(Rissa_tridactyla) on aniceflow (bergy bit). Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D
What happens next? Will Katie survive the winter and learn to look after herself? Find out in the next installment of Katie the Kittiwake!
Coulson, J. (2011). The kittiwake. A&C Black.
Wernham, C., Toms, M., Marchant, J., Clark, J., Siriwardena, G., & Baillie, S. (2002). The migration atlas: movements of the birds of Britain and Ireland. T & AD Poyser.