Birdwatching in the Outer Hebrides

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  • A close up of a golden eagle in Scotland
    A golden eagle
  • A puffin perched on a cliff edge
    A puffin perched on a cliff edge
  • A man wildlife watching at Rubha Ardvule, South Uist
    Wildlife watching at Rubha Ardvule, South Uist

The Outer Hebrides are a twitcher's paradise. The diverse habitats found across the islands provide a home for a huge variety of species ranging from majectic raptors like the golden eagle and white-tailed sea eagles right down to small waders such as the dunlin and lapwing.

Seabirds

Unsurprisingly for an island chain, seabirds are a major presence across the Outer Hebrides. The rocky cliff faces are often teeming with puffin, fulmar and gannets, particularly in the late spring and summer months when these and other species are most active in terms of feeding, breeding and social activity.

Puffins

As home to the biggest colony of puffins in the UK, the Hebrides is a fantastic place to view these charming birds when they return to breed between March and August each year. One of the best ways to see puffins up close is to take a wildlife cruise around the outer islands, in particular St Kilda (which also boasts the world's largest colony of guillemots), the Shiants, the Flannan Isles, Mingulay and North Rona.

Gannets

Other key seabird breeding colonies can be found on the Monachs, Berneray (south of Mingulay), Rona and Sula Sgeir. The latter is home to the famous guga, the young gannet. Guga are considered to be a great delicacy in Ness on the Isle of Lewis and are hunted annually as part of a controlled cull. (Sula Sgeir is a National Nature Reserve and the harvesting of the guga has no adverse effect on the overall population of the gannet colony.)

Land birds

Migratory species

Given their location, the Outer Hebrides are a popular stopping-off point for migratory species heading across the North Atlantic. These include the many hundred Barnacle geese that winter on the Sound of Harris and the Greylag geese that are year-round residents of the Uists.

Corncrakes and waders

The Hebridean machair is also the last stronghold of the corncrake. A relatively rare sighting elsewhere in the UK, the corncrake is still fairly common in the Outer Hebrides and its beautiful and distinctive cry can be heard from mid April until early August.

Twite, dunlin, redshank and ringed plover also thrive on the machair lands: there are over 17,000 pairs of waders breeding on the Uists and Barra machair alone - the most numerous being lapwing.

Golden eagles

Away from the coast, raptors such as merlins, peregrine falcons, buzzards and harriers are common sights although the most prized sightings are those of the magnificent sea eagles and the iconic golden eagles, the latter in particular being found high over in the mountain and hilly terrain where there are thought to be around 20 breeding pairs.

In fact, Harris is one of the best places in all of Europe to see golden eagles and nowhere more so than at the North Harris Eagle Observatory, seven miles north west of Tarbert at Glen Meavaig. From here you'll be able to watch the daily activities of the resident pair of golden eagles as well as an incredible range of moorland birds and mammals.

Some of the most accessible places to view these beautiful creatures are at the numerous RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage reserves located across the islands.

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