BALTIC's Kittiwakes

24 March – 31 July 2018

NewcastleGateshead Quayside is home to an estimated 700 pairs of breeding kittiwakes. This colony is recognised as being the furthest inland kittiwake colony in the world. Kittiwakes have used the NewcastleGateshead Quayside as a breeding site since the 1960s and have truly become a well-established part of our local and natural heritage.

Kittiwakes are usually coastal birds, however, the kittiwakes that breed along the River Tyne nest, not on cliffs, but on man-made structures like the Tyne Bridge and BALTIC.

Kittiwakes usually nest on cliff edges and on rock faces, it is rare for them to nest so close to an urban landscape. They spend the winter months at sea and return to their colonies as early as February, staying through to August to breed. Male kittiwakes are creatures of habit and will look to nest on the same site each year.

The kittiwake is our most sea-loving gull, its diet is composed mainly of fish, shrimps and marine worms. Unlike some other gulls, kittiwakes do not scavenge in bins or at landfill sites, they will fly out to sea to fish. Results from satellite tracking devices show that the Kittiwakes will often make a 100 mile round trip for their food.

Kittiwakes make their nests from mud, seaweed, moss and other plant material. Both sexes will contribute to nest-building with activity being increased in the two weeks before eggs are laid. Kittiwakes will usually lay 1-3 eggs between mid May and late June. Both parents will take turns to sit on the nest and after a 4 week incubation period the chicks will hatch covered in white and grey downy feathers. Both parents look after the chicks, which are fed regurgitated fish.

In 1998 a Kittiwake Tower was built to provide an alternative home for the kittiwakes while BALTIC underwent redevelopment from a disused flour mill. The 16 metre-high Kittiwake Tower was designed to have three artificial cliff-faces and ledges made from heavy timber. The design was made to accommodate up to 200 nesting pairs. Decoy kittiwakes and old nests, collected from cliffs at Marsden, South Shields, were used to attract new pairs to the structure. The structure has since been designated as a local nature reserve by Gateshead Council and continues to provide a home for breeding kittiwakes at Saltmeadows, Gateshead, just downstream from BALTIC.