Kittiwakes upon the Tyne

The Furthest Inland Breeding Colonies of Kittiwakes in the World

Home Tyne Kittiwake Colonies Phoenix House – Newcastle Quayside

Phoenix House – Tyne Kittiwakes

Up to fifty-three pairs of Kittiwakes
settle down to nest on Phoenix House”

As more and more of the Tyne Kittiwake’s favourite buildings, are either demolished or made unusable following the installation of new anti-bird deterrents, they are finding themselves searching for alternative places to nest and bring life to the next generation.

This is especially important at this time, as Kittiwake populations are declining globally. Phoenix House, close to the Tyne Bridge was chosen by the Kittiwakes to build their nests.  
The owners of the building, were unable to let the Kittiwakes continue to nest and, in an effort, to prevent them nesting, they installed anti-bird deterrents such as netting.

Kittiwakes became trapped in
and behind this anti-bird netting”

A young Kittiwake trapped behind anti-bird netting



A young Kittiwake
Trapped behind anti-bird netting
On Phoenix House – Summer 2018
by Paul Buskin

This did not stop the Kittiwakes nesting and the Kittiwakes continued to build their nests on and around the netting. Unfortunately, during the 2018 breeding season, two adults were fatally injured in anti-bird netting and a chick become trapped behind some netting.    The chick remained trapped from the 19th July till the 30th July 2018.

The chicks small size enabled it to fit through; but as the bird started to grow, it found find itself imprisoned and unable to escape.  Thankfully the bird was eventually freed and taken into care
by the Fire and Rescue Service and the RSPCA”.

A new anti-bird deterrent used – ‘fire-gel’.

As the Kittiwakes started to return to the River Tyne and the Quaysides of Newcastle and Gateshead early 2019, the owners of Phoenix House removed some of the unsuitable ‘anti-bird netting’ and replaced this with a new anti-bird deterrent; fire-gel. To a bird the harmless (and invisible to the human eye) Ultra Violet (UV) light projecting from the non-toxic Gel is seen as a flame and hence a hazard to avoid.  The small group of Kittiwakes that settled down, high up on Phoenix House, showed signs of being unhappy with the fire gel, however their instinct to nest was higher.  They adapted to its presence pretty quickly. 


Kittiwakes continued
to nest

The new fire-gel anti-bird deterrent did not stop the Kittiwakes from nesting on top of Phoenix House.  Over two dozen pairs settled down during the 2019 breeding season.  The nesting birds remained amongst the gel and successfully raised young chicks. 

Kittiwakes nesting on Phoenix House during 2019

“Four pairs constructed their nests precariously on some of the vintage arches.”

They put a lot of effort into constructing these new nests, and they proved to be very secure in the end. It is amazing how Kittiwakes can nest on tiny ledges and so high up.  Ten-out-of ten for effort.


2020 Breeding Season

Kittiwakes returned during 2020 and over two dozen pairs successfully nested on this historic building.  Sadly, a few Kittiwakes became trapped in some of the remaining anti-bird netting, that was not fit-for-purpose.  Thankfully, some were rescued by the RSPCA and Blyth Wildlife Rescue; however, some lost their lives.  

Discussions took place between volunteers from Kittiwakes upon Tyne, The Tyne Kittiwake Partnership, RSPCA and the owners of the building to hopefully see the removal of this area of anti-bird netting prior to the Kittiwakes returning for the 2021 season. 

Kittiwakes nesting on Phoenix House by Paul Buskin


Was the remaining anti-bird netting that
was accidentally trapping Kittiwakes removed?”

Yes, it was dismantled prior to the Kittiwakes returning early 2021.  This was replaced with a fresh batch of anti-bird gel.  Thanks go to the owners of the building and the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership, that helped make this happen. Did the anti-bird gel deter the Kittiwakes nesting?  Our own observations, suggest, too little of the gel was used, and we are not sure if this is the same type which was used on a nearby building.  A building opposite used to host dozens of nesting Kittiwakes, however following the installation of anti-bird gel they were deterred from continuing for future seasons.  So anti-bird gel does work at times. 

 Kittiwakes returned for the 2021 season.  
Did they continue to nest on Phoenix House?”

Kittiwakes pairing up on Phoenix House – 21st March 2021

Yes, over two dozen pairs remained on Phoenix House during the spring/summer months and successfully fledged young Kittiwakes.  The new fire-gel didn’t appear to disturb the Kittiwakes at all.  Unfortunately, despite, the removal of the area of anti-bird netting that was PROVEN to trap and injure Kittiwakes during the 2020 season; two adult Kittiwakes lost their lives on separate areas of netting/clips that remain on the upper reaches of the roof.  Whilst some anti-bird netting remains, there is always a risk.  Talks are on-going with the owners to try and prevent any Kittiwakes becoming injured or trapped as a result of anti-bird deterrents.  It is recognized however, that this is a red-flagged building and the owners are not able to allow the Phoenix House Kittiwake colony to remain here long term. 

There continues to be capacity on the Tyne Bridge for more pairs; however if Newcastle City Council were to follow Gateshead Councils example and provide an artificial structure similar to the Saltmeadows Tower; we are sure this would be welcomed by the Tyne Kittiwakes.  We do appreciate that the Kittiwakes themselves choose where to nest, so persuading them to move away from nesting on city centre buildings, is not always simple.  

As the 2021-2023 seasons dawned and played out, dozens of these small friendly seagulls returned, nested, and raised young chicks.  On the whole, they fared well, however during the heat wave of 2022, many suffered from heat exhaustion, as conditions in this inland urban colony are very different to the windy, sea cliffs and islands at their traditional coastal habitats. 

Young chicks simply being FLUFFY on Phoenix House by Paul Buskin

There will be times where there are red-flagged buildings, where the owners are not able to allow birds to nest on them.  The use of anti-bird deterrents, can be justified if they involve methods/equipment which are harmless to birds.    In such cases however, as the Kittiwakes are themselves a red-listed species; with their populations at risk; alternative provision could be provided to offset the loss of their existing choices. 

If more and more green-flagged sites are provided, this will potentially discourage birds nesting deeper into the Newcastle city itself.  Lack of choices for the Kittiwakes is driving them onto buildings.  It can be said however, that no one truly knows where the Tyne Kittiwakes will actually choose to nest in the end.  but…..   an alternative artificial structure was created; the » Saltmeadows Tower, which houses over one-HUNDRED nesting pairs, so such projects can become a reality and do actually work. The Saltmeadows Tower is also used for important research to try and understand the distribution/ages of this unique inland colony of Kittiwakes. 

Why are Kittiwakes travelling so far inland to nest?”
Well factors like climate change may be responsible. There is also evidence of MANY more coastal species of birds, being recorded as far as the » Dunston Staiths.  These have included Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, Rock Pipits and Turnstones etc.  Further research is needed to explore Why this is happening? and most importantly, why increasing numbers are arriving? and what are these coastal species feeding on?