Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Black-legged Kittiwake - Rissa tridactyla
LARIDAE Members:
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General Comments Of the remarkable 19 species of gulls on the North Carolina list (though two are only Provisional), the Black-legged Kittiwake is one of just two (along with the Sabine's) essentially pelagic ones, whereby a birder must typically take a boat trip to see it. It is difficult to state its "historical" numbers in our waters, as very few pelagic trips were taken prior to the 1970's, and even until a few years ago, often only a single winter trip was made each year to the cold waters off the Outer Banks, where most of the birds occur. The species was found on the majority of such trips until about 2005, but the species has been more difficult to find in the past several winters. Even so, it is a species that an observer would expect to see at least one or two in midwinter off the northern coast, and less likely farther south. Though there have been inland records for many if not most states to our north and west (including Tennessee, with at least five records), it was not until Fall 2015 that the species was finally found inland in North Carolina, with photographic records from both the Piedmont and the mountains.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S1N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident offshore; clearly declining. From the late 1990's to about 2005, generally fairly common in winter off the northern half of the coast (Cape Hatteras northward), and uncommon southward off the coast. Since 2005, typically uncommon from Cape Hatteras northward, and rare to very uncommon southward. Rarely seen from shore, and mainly from that cape northward; birds can at times be seen resting on beaches or tidal pools (but most of these are probably sick or oiled). One record for the Tidewater zone, of an immature seen in northeastern Pamlico on 30 Apr 1982 [Chat 46:120 link]; however, there are no farther inland records. Mainly late Oct to the end of Mar, with peak counts presumably in late Jan to mid-Feb. Oddly, there are six reports of the species from the coast (Oregon Inlet to Cape Hatteras) from 14-30 May! Most of these, seen by a variety of experienced observers, are apparently birds seen from shore, in a very late northbound migration. Peak counts: 111, off Oregon Inlet, 24 Jan 1998; 90, off Hatteras Inlet, 28 Jan 1996.
Piedmont Accidental: an immature was seen and photographed at Beaverdam Reservoir (Wake) on 29 Nov 2015* [Chat 80:15 link], [Chat 80:37 link]; and an immature was also seen and photographed at Lake Hickory on 17 Nov 2017* [Chat 82:36 link], [Chat 82:57 link].
Mountains Accidental: an immature was seen and photographed at Lake Julian (Buncombe) on the remarkably early date on 11 Sep 2015* [Chat 80:14 link], [Chat 80:37 link].
Finding Tips If you take a pelagic trip from Cape Hatteras northward during the winter, you now have about a 50% chance of seeing a kittiwake; however, this percentage seems to be declining every winter. There are numerous pelagic trip reports from south of that Cape, but south of Morehead City, kittiwakes would likely be missed more often than seen. Kittiwakes are normally seen over colder water inshore of the Gulf Stream. If you are unwilling to go offshore in winter, your best chance is to stand watch at Cape Hatteras or Cape Lookout, especially during easterly winds. A number of records of birds along the coast are of oiled birds.
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Attribution LeGrand[2018-06-09], LeGrand[2018-02-20], LeGrand[2016-06-02]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
NOTE: The maps for birds represent the breeding status by state and province. In some jurisdictions, the subnational statuses for common species have not been assessed and the status is shown as not-assessed (SNR). In some jurisdictions, the subnational status refers to the status as a non-breeder; these errors will be corrected in future versions of these maps. A species is not shown in a jurisdiction if it is not known to breed in the jurisdiction or if it occurs only accidentally or casually in the jurisdiction. Thus, the species may occur in a jurisdiction as a seasonal non-breeding resident or as a migratory transient but this will not be indicated on these maps. See other maps on this web site that depict the Western Hemisphere ranges of these species at all seasons of the year.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AK, AL, CA, CO, DE, FL, GA, IL, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, SD, TX, VA, VT, WA
Canada BC, LB, NB, NF, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

Range Map Compilers: NatureServe, 2002; NatureServe, 2005