Finding wildlife in Orkney

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  • Gannets rest on a cliff edge, Orkney
    Gannets, Noup Head, Westray
  • A North Ronaldsay sheep and seal on the rocks by the water
    North Ronaldsay sheep
  • A seabird mid flight near Westray
    Fulmar off Stronsay coast
  • Seals on North Ronaldsay
    Seals on North Ronaldsay

Come and explore the inspiring landscapes of Orkney, a region blessed with an unblemished coastline which gives shelter to some of Scotland’s most important species of bird. Visit wetlands or take to the many trails and hides over the archipelago to spot a variety of spectacular birds and mammals, from puffins, guillemots and waders to hares, seals and voles.

Orkney has a wide selection of wildlife-watching opportunities as you would expect from an archipelago with a wider range of habitats than anywhere of a comparable size in Britain.

Bird life

Birdwatching is rewarding at any time of year. The range of suitable habitats, readily available sustenance, a lack of predators and a relatively mild climate allow numerous birds to flourish on Orkney, especially seabirds. Look out for short-eared owls, citrine wagtails, Arctic warblers, kestrels, oystercatchers, hen harriers, Arctic terns and puffins.

During the winter months, look out for waterfowl, whooper swans, while in spring and early summer, the large numbers of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, gannets, shags, and fulmars populate the islands' cliffs, creating vast bird cities.

All birds have their local Orkney names - can you guess which bird is the mallimak, or scootie-alan? In the fields and wetlands, hundreds of curlew, lapwing, redshank and other small waders congregate to raise their young. Rarer breeding visitors on the hill lochans and in the less cultivated parts include the ‘rain-goose’ (red-throated diver), and the corncrake.

The Noup Head reserve in Westray, home to the largest bird colony in Orkney, is an unforgettable site. Bird hides and an observatory on North Ronaldsay allow you to watch the birds without disturbing them. On the Mainland, Marwick Head and Mull Head are great places to start looking for local birds. You can also keep up to date with special wildlife events on the Outdoor Orkney website.

Mammals

Grey and common seals are a common sight. Stand on any shore and it's likely that a seal will find you irresistibly interesting - if you whistle or walk on, it may very well swim along in time with you. Or see them hauled out on pleasant days wherever rocky skerries provide them with space to bask lazily. The shy otter and the tiny Orkney vole are less frequently spotted but well worth the wait, as is seeing a pair of hares boxing in the spring.

Orkney's wildlife enjoys an unspoilt environment, relatively little disturbance and ample feeding grounds. Walk quietly, be prepared to go slowly and the wealth of Orkney's wild riches can be yours.

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