Seabirds

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  • a large seabird flies over open water
    A gannet flies near to the Bass Rock
  • The much-loved puffin has distinguishable features and is full of character
    The puffin, a much-loved species of seabird.

Scotland is a bird enthusiast’s paradise and in the seas and on the coastlines you can find a fascinating variety of breeds.  Islands and cliffs provide ideal habitats for many birds to nest during the summer months, often arriving from the sea on mass and breeding in large colonies, an awesome natural sight to witness. There are many ways to discover Scotland's seabirds; enjoy thrilling boat trips and dramatic cliff top walks for close encounters with spectacular species.

Puffins

Standing only 12 in tall, the puffin is an unmistakable bird with its black back and white under-parts, distinctive black head with large pale cheeks and a tall, flattened, brightly-coloured bill. Its comical appearance is heightened by its red and black eye-markings and bright orange legs. In spring, when puffins come ashore to breed, they inhabit offshore islands and high sea cliffs. They breed in colonies and nest in burrows, under boulders or in cracks in cliffs, safe from predators. Puffins spend the winter out at sea, usually far from coasts and often head south of the breeding areas. The breeding season starts in spring and ends at the end of summer, with puffins departing from their colonies in August. One island which plays host to these little characters is Lunga in the Treshnish Isles. Lying close to the Isle of Mull, the Treshnish Isles have a distinctly Hebridean landscape and have rich wildlife populations, the most notable of which being its impressive seabird colony. On Lunga's shores you can get up close with this much loved bird. You’ll be taken aback by how tame the puffins are while being amazed at the sight of thousands of seabirds.

When to see this species: spring, summer

Where to see this species: On islands and sea cliffs in places such as East Lothian, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Fife, Shetland and Orkney.

Gannets

Adult gannets are large and bright white with black wingtips. They are distinctively shaped with a long neck and long pointed beak, long pointed tail, and long wings, making them perfectly streamlined for diving into the sea. Their wingspan is impressive, stretching to up to 6 ft 6 in. The feeding is a remarkable sight; gannets first fly high, circle, then dramatically plunge into the sea. They breed in vast colonies at only a few locations, on coastal cliffs and remote rocky islands with ledges and slopes. Like puffins, gannets spend winter out at sea. Gannets can be seen in Scotland during the breeding season months, first arriving in late January and staying until as late as October. You can visit the biggest gannet colony in the world at the Bass Rock. The home to over 150,000 gannets in summer, this island sits just over a mile from shore on the outer part of the Firth of Forth. 

When to see this species: spring, summer

Where to see this species: Coastal locations in places such as East Lothian, the Highlands, Aberdeenshire, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.

Guillemots

Scotland's coasts have many stretches of sheer cliffs where seabirds breed and the guillemot is one of the most numerous birds in the great 'seabird cities'. They are dark brown and white and can be distinguished from the similar-looking razorbill by their lighter colouring and their longer, narrower, darker bill. They come to land only to nest and spend the rest of their life at sea, where they can be vulnerable to oil spills. Rather than making a nest, female guillemots lay a single egg which they incubate on a bare rock ledge on a cliff face.



Once the chick is three weeks old, it will dramatically plunge into the sea with its father, who will then care for it at sea until it is independent. Like some other seabirds, they spend winter far out at sea.

When to see this species: spring, summer

Where to see this species: On cliffs of the mainland and islands throughout Scotland.

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