Newquay is famous for its beaches, surfing and buzzing holiday atmosphere but there are other aspects of Cornwall’s premier seaside resort often overlooked, sometimes literally. Situated just yards from one of the town’s largest hotels tucked away below the cliff edge is Cornwall’s largest breeding colony of kittiwakes.
The colony nestles on the cliff below the Huer’s Hut that overlooks Newquay Bay and comprises some 1 200 breeding pairs of one of our true seabirds. There has been enormous growth in their numbers over the last hundred years since they were given legal protection, before this century, the kittiwake was slaughtered for sport and to provide feathers for Victorian ladies’ hats. They are smaller and more elegant than the chip thieving herring gulls commonly seen around Newquay and in flight are buoyant and graceful as they dice with the wave crests on a stormy day. They can be distinguished from other gulls by their dark eyes, yellow green bill and black legs.
The best time to see the birds is during the breeding season between late March and early July. During this time the birds occupy their up-shaped nests, made of moss, seaweed and other plant material, which they cement together with considerable quantities of droppings. Each pair rear 2 or sometimes 3 creamy white chicks that both parents feed during the 5 to 8 weeks that they spend in the nest. Outside f the breeding season kittiwakes spend their time at sea feeding on small fish, squid and shellfish that they take from the surface of the water.© Photograph of Kittiwake in Flight with kind permission of Paul (Flckr)