Individual recognition is required in most social interactions, and its presence has been confirmed in many species. In birds, vocal cues appear to be a major component of recognition. Curiously, vocal recognition seems absent or limited in some highly social species such as the black-legged kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla. Using playback experiments, we found that kittiwake chicks recognized their parents vocally, this capacity being detectable as early as 20 days after hatching, the youngest age tested. Mates also recognized each other's long calls. Some birds reacted to their partner's voice when only a part of the long call was played back. Nevertheless, only about a third of the tested birds reacted to their mate's or parents' call and we were unable to detect recognition among neighbours. We discuss the low reactivity of kittiwakes in relation to their cliff-nesting habit and compare our results with evidence of vocal recognition in other larids. ?? 2008 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.