Follow the water’s edge north and you’ll eventually arrive at an impressively steep cliff edge which is the puffins favourite nesting area and the location of gorgeous views across the Pentland Firth. Keen on birds? There are a couple of National Trust for Scotland designated paths in the nature reserve which run close to the cliff edge and others which circle a nearby loch, but please note that the NTS make a point of asking you not to explore the rest of the site as you could upset the breeding pairs. But opting out of some of these cookies may have an effect on your browsing experience. Puffins in north-west Scotland. Because – and I’ve seen it myself so often – picture this scene. The forests of Arran offer some of the best mountain biking routes of any of the west-coast islands and any cycle ride is almost guaranteed to include sightings of Arran’s famed red squirrels. You can walk there from either John O’ Groat’s car park or from the nearer makeshift car park at the Duncansby Head lighthouse, but if the weather’s nice I suggest you take the longer path as the coastline really is stunning and you’ll find great flocks of birds circling overhead all along the water’s edge. *They oldest puffin ringed by scientists – and whose ring was found – was over 30 years old. Nobody ever drooled over a black guillemot, but I like ’em. Seabirds and Seals for Shetland Island tours: Photographic opportunities with the awesome Noss cliffs in the background. The Complete Guide to Visiting Real Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, The Complete Guide to Visiting Brodick, Isle of Arran, The Complete Guide to The Arran Coastal Way. They can live up to 4o years and return to the same burrow. Puffins are no exception to this family trait and watching their silent dives from 30 feet above the waves I was amazed at how skilful they are underwater as they hunt for their favourite meals of herring and sandeels. Other than its fascinating history, Shetland boasts one of the most diverse wildlife areas in the British Isles and it’s especially popular with seabirds, no doubt due to the fact that no spot on the islands is more than three miles from the sea. After the breeding period they spend the rest of the year in the North and Atlantic Oceans in large flocks known as ‘rafts’. Have those binoculars handy, of course, and, yes again, on the water you obviously can’t see the feet so look for the beak and head. Puffins look like a little penguin in colour with a very colourful beak. Museum demand for skins also hastened the end of the species. While it’s almost impossible to name every cliff face on the mainland that puffins like to call home there are a few islands that are famed for their puffin colonies. When the time is right, like independently minded teenagers, the young set off at night from their home-burrow, ignored by their parents. Later in the year the puffins move further out to sea though other birds like barnacle geese move in from the freezing conditions of Canada and Greenland so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see wildlife whenever you visit. They nest in burrows. (Pictured here) Puffins at Hermaness, Shetland. The last one recorded in Scottish waters was actually presented alive in 1821 to Robert Stevenson by a local crofter. The Basic Scotland Packing List. The island can be visited between April to 30th September… Telephone 07767 872260. (Don’t get too close to these, will you? It is the arrival point for most visitors due to the ferry port but is popular in its own right thanks to its beaches, surrounding forests, castle and quality restaurants. ... Seafari Adventures are a 5* Visit Scotland … This is explained in detail in the St. Abbs Head visitor centre which shows how human disturbance stresses the birds and causes them to leave their nests, but the three-mile circular walk through the reserve is so nice you shouldn’t feel the need to go anywhere else anyway. Brodick is the main village on the Isle of Arran, located on the west coast of Scotland. In winter, the beak has a dull grey … From some online dabbling it looks like summer is … The season usually lasts from April till early … This question, which we are often asked here at VisitScotland, has 12 correct … Anyway, back in puffin world, yes, keep an eye on auks on the water. These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. For example, if you head north to Caithness and park at Duncansby Head Lighthouse and walk south to get the standard pictures of the Stacks of Duncansby, then there are puffins on the grassy sections of the cliffs en route. Horned puffins dig burrows up to three feet underground. Males and females look identical except the males are slightly larger. Everybody loves puffins. There are now an estimated one million seabirds living on the islands which is a wonderful achievement, but the downside for tourists is that it’s really smelly in the areas where they nest because there are so many of them. Scotland's unspoilt scenery and incredible nature make it a haven for Scottish wildlife to thrive.. In this website I’ll show you the best places to visit and give you lots of tips for making the most of your time in Scotland. They nest in screes and rocky places. Two species, the tufted puffin and horned puffin… Well, of course you do if the little birdie wanders up to you and looks cute.”. Many puffin visits require … The Atlantic Puffin (which are the Puffins UK species) live on islands and coasts along Scotland and make colonies high up in the cliffs. Around most of the coastline rugged cliffs act as home to thousands of pairs of birds and in the summer months there are fantastic seabird-spotting opportunities with over a million of them (one-tenth of Britain’s total seabird population) swooping across the islands. The low-lying bay rises gently towards the hills behind it which are the reason why the St. Kildans built their houses there – the hills would have offered at least a little protection from the elements that batter the rest of the island. What really blew my mind during my research was that the Puffins … It’s possible that puffins live even longer than that. During the months of August and early September young puffins are left … Unlike many bird species, a pair of puffins will stay together for life with one staying at home to look after their young and the other out at sea looking for food but they work together to build the nests which they return to year after year. In front of them is a cliff, covered, stacked, thronged with guillemots (and razorbills), all braying and pecking and shuffling in the confined ledges. If you visit keep that thought in mind as you’ll get the best views in the early morning when they set off and the early evening when they return, but don’t worry too much if you miss them as you’ll see thousands of other birds throughout the day. We're Open. (Find out more at North Berwick’s Scottish Seabird Centre.). This means that they live almost the entire year on … The Firth of Forth has more than fifty thousand occupied puffin burrows. Can you believe it, could the birdies get any cuter? Getting to St. Kilda is difficult, although not impossible. I think I’ve cropped out the razorbills.) The Atlantic Puffin is a … The Arran Coastal Way is a circular cycling and walking route around the perimeter of the Isle of Arran on Scotland’s west coast. There can be up to 3000 puffins on the island in addition to other seabirds such as razorbills, guillemots and fulmars. Puffins return to the clifftop nesting areas in March and April. Buy exclusive not-available-in-the-shops puffin gifts from the Out About Scotland Etsy Shop. Obviously, the terrain will be gentler but you can be sure that somewhere close by will be the vertiginous plunge to your doom, so take care, will you? *They don’t breed until they are at least four, sometimes older and very often return to the site where they were born. There they are, all these auks, doing their best to be entertaining – and all you want to see is the guy with that strap-on stupid beak? Look for puffins in Scotland on steep grassy cliffs, or those parts of cliffs with scree or, in general, where it’s that bit greener (indicating soil rather than bare rock). Duncansby Head near John O’ Groats. So, auks and puffins have a high wing-loading factor – little wings useful for swimming but you have to work them hard to get airborne. This was while Stevenson was inspecting the Eilean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay, which is just off the larger island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. But hang on, there’s even more you should know about puffins…and if this doesn’t make you step back and give ‘em some space and respect, then…. The steep cliffs of Sumburgh Head provide lots of protective nooks and crannies for a multitude of birds to nest in and each species has their own favourite area but the puffins seem to like burrowing into the soft soil at the very top of the cliffs. There are hundreds and hundreds of auks packed together – a seabird city spectacle that assaults all senses (Boy, this birdy biomass sure can smell fishy.) You can take a three island seabird safari which departs from North Berwick and visits the Lamb, Craigleith and Bass Rock islands, you can take a private charter on a rigid inflatable, or you can book yourself onto a Bass Rock landing experience. There are many more out on the Forth islands, eg Isle of May. It’s an incredibly atmospheric place that really comes alive in the summer months thanks to the unusual mix of both Atlantic and Arctic animal species that thrive in the dense forests of seaweed growing close to the shoreline. Uninhabited by humans for more than ninety years, St. Kilda has returned to nature with just a few ruined buildings on the main island of Hirta left to tell the tale of the people who lived there before they were evacuated in 1930. Puffins are any of three species of small alcids in the bird genus Fratercula with a brightly colored beak during the breeding season. The centre also has a viewing platform with high-powered binoculars if you feel watching a TV screen is a bit too hands-off, but for the ultimate puffin-viewing experience you need to get out into the water which is where the tour boats come in. Puffins respond to increasing light levels and put on their breeding dress – they’re much more drab out at sea in the winter. This part of Scotland’s coastline is wild and rugged, formed an age ago by active volcanos which left behind a magnificent stretch of sheer cliffs and offshore sea stacks. Same applies if you are casually puffin-spotting from the rail of, say, a CalMac or Northlink ferry. They’re a very sociable lot, the other auks like guillemots and razorbills, pictured here. Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. The cliffs in this part of Scotland are steep and crumbling due to the different types of rock formations and they’ve become a bit of a tourist attraction in their own right due to the number of seabirds that call the monumental sea stacks their home. The first kind is when you see them through binoculars from above and if you were to get any closer you would kill yourself by falling a very long way into the sea. According to the Scottish Seabird Centre, puffins beat their wings up to four hundred times per minute which means they need to eat lots of fish for energy, so luckily for them their over-sized bills can hold up to a dozen at a time. I know I have. Auks are a kind of seabird of roughly small penguin shape, usually black and white. If you’d like to take a tour there click the below advert and search for ‘staffa’ to find the best Treshinish Island tour companies. The Shetland Islands. So there’s no point in scanning the vertical rock-faces where they’d need little puffinous pick-axes to make holes in the first place. Puffins and auks have a special problem. These cookies will be stored in your browser only with your consent. It’s just a sample really. Sea Harris for St. Kilda tours: Sail past the highest sea cliffs in the UK, teeming with seabirds, and walk along the deserted street of Village Bay, abandoned in 1930 after 2000 years of continuous habitation. There are few places left on earth, where you can experience unspoiled nature and abundant wildlife. Anyway, as I see you are still reading, then here are plenty of puffinous facts – just so you can be totally auk-aware. The boring old guillemots, tedious razorbills – and let’s not forget the black guillemot or tystie, much as I know you want to…. As a top-tip, no visit to this corner of Scotland would be complete without a visit to Smoo Cave which is only two miles east of Balnakeil. During the breeding season the males grow a bright orange coating over their bills but it flakes off once the season ends. West Coast Tours for the Treshinish Isles: Over two hours will be spent on Lunga where you can visit the puffin colony, then time on Staffa and two hours on Iona to explore and seek out the rare corncrake. Basking Shark Scotland for the Treshinish Isles: Visit the Treshnish Isles Special Area of Conservation, a highly important area for seabirds. Then, carrying on up the east coast, for high-profile visitor haunts, there is a bit of a gap. The Scottish Seabird Centre for the Firth of Forth. It’s even close to an airport so you could take a flight in just to see the puffins before heading elsewhere. Staffa Tours for the Treshinish Isles. Kilda Cruises for St. Kilda tours: Visit one of the most important seabird colonies in Europe. In comparison, puffins are a little stand-offish. Anyway, talking of dives, many of them are less than 50 ft (15m). They need wings both to fly and to swim with. During … They leave the burrow for good, heading out to start their sea-going lives. Remember? These islands generally have the same geology (steep cliff faces) and location (remote and largely uninhabited) which explains why the birds choose to live there, although islands like Lunga are seeing increasing numbers of tourist groups. Go to St. Kilda for St. Kilda tours. This one’s just caught a fish. Being a puffin in Scotland is probably a deadly serious business, what with the sandeel shortages and all that burrowing playing havoc with the plumage in the breeding season. Shetland Explorer Tours for the Shetland Islands: Head to Sumburgh, the southernmost point of Shetland to see the Puffins which are guaranteed to be seen in May, June and July. Subscribe & get a FREE guide to Edinburgh. The average time in total a puffin spends underwater during the breeding season is about seven hours. Their favourite food are sand eels, herring and capelin. Legal: Outaboutscotland.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk. But remember, some of the places where you might see puffins are pretty much mixed in with where you’ll see the rest of their cousins. *Researchers say that the ‘divorce rate’ amongst puffins is between 7-13% – so that’s nice for them. Follow my adventures on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube, or contact me. Sure, they’ll pose about on … Walking further east for half an hour will take you to the three Duncansby Stacks which you’ll be able to see reasonably closely at several viewing points but as the cliffs are so steep it’s basically impossible to see them from ground level unless you take a boat ride in from a seaward approach. Homepage » Articles » Outdoors & Nature. The only way to get to Lunga is via one of the organised tours and you’ll have to stick to their strict time limits as the time spent on the island is kept to a minimum in order to cause as little disruption to the birds as possible. The orange on the legs and bill is a concentration of carotenoid pigments, built up from a diet of carotenoid-rich fish. One other point about puffins. Some are as deep as 200ft (61m) and last two minutes. (See puffin tool-using – yes, really – lower down the page.). There’s something about their oversized heads, brightly-coloured stripy beaks and dumpy wee bodies that makes them impossibly endearing, and if you’ve ever watched them slapping their large orange feet around Scotland’s coastlines you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. I started searching for how to get there and I was looking for Oban Boat trips, Boat trips from Oban, and Isle of Mull tours. You might get a disinterested stare or two but they’re generally not scared of people which makes a visit to Lunga one of the highlights of any wildlife expedition in Scotland. In 1145 the Isle of May was housed a monastery, in 1636 Scotland’s 1st lighthouse lit it’s beacon here and in 1715 300 fleeing Jacobites were marooned for 8 days. First I want to make a plea for their cousins, the rest of the auk tribe. Scotland’s smallest and most distinctive breeding auk species with black upper parts and white under parts. No effortless gliding for them. Only joking about the last one. At that point the visitor will say ‘So where are the puffins?’ Small wonder the guillemots get jealous. * Puffins lay a single egg only a little under one fifth of their own body weight. The name ‘puffin’ is an old-English word originally used to describe the unrelated Manx shearwater. What took me by surprise as I sat on the edge of the tour boat wasn’t the number of gannets rather than the acrobatics of the puffins. Anyway, we call the most common species of auk a guillemot, the name deriving from a diminutive version of the French name Guillaume (William). (Sure, it happens. The last encounter with a breeding pair was in 1844 on Eldey, off south-west Iceland. I’m Craig, I live in Edinburgh and I love exploring Scotland’s attractions. I suggest you take binoculars if you want a good look at these puffins though. On the other side of the Atlantic from Scotland, they are called murres, a name you never hear here. But feel free to make up your own puffin-speak. Let’s talk about wing-loading factor. Then they take off their orange makeup, hang up their fancy beaks, lock up the burrow for another year and head seawards too. Then you should get yourself out to North Ronaldsay. After I started planning my island itinerary, I learned about the puffins … (Or, at least, I’ll point you towards some puffiny places.) But now that I’ve mentioned puffins I see you’re already reaching for the camera and making drooly noises. Adults have a distinctive rainbow coloured deep bill as well as white cheeks and a … OK, I know enough now about how to recognise a puffin. And the thing to remember about guillemots, the puffin’s cousin, is that they are really jealous of their colourfully-beaked relative. Get flight deals when you fly to Scotland. Tours can be booked online or at the centre and there are a few options varying in price and duration. These birds effortlessly zip through the air at speeds that seem impossible with their stubby wings and they’re able to dive into the sea at a breakneck velocity. Most importantly, though you may hear puffins give a kind of deep yet nervous laugh, this does not give them a sense of humour. Because these wee islands are so remote the birds there are remarkably tolerant of people and you’ll find yourself able to creep up surprisingly close to them. If crossing north over the Scottish Border on the east side, then St Abb’s Head is just a few minutes away. I’ll cover a few of Scotland’s best puffin-viewing locations in the following sections. OK, I’ll tell you where to see puffins in a minute. Look for puffins in Scotland on steep grassy cliffs, or those parts of cliffs with scree or, in general, where it’s that bit greener (indicating soil rather than bare rock). Maybe you photographers want to try that if you want real close-ups? There are some puffins about wherever there are suitable nesting habitats as described – for instance at Fowlsheugh (RSPB Reserve) below Stonehaven and also the cliffs by Muchalls, above Stonehaven – just two more slightly puffinous places on this east coast stretch. Duncansby Head is located in the far north of Scotland a few miles around the coastline from John O’ Groats. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website. Telephone 01950 477384. Flightless, this penguin-like Northern Hemisphere bird was ruthlessly exploited for food and persecuted to extinction. View 25,000 gannets, thousands of guillemots and hundreds of puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, gulls, shags and skuas. Puffins are something of a birdy speciality on the Northern Isles. You won’t find any outside that time frame. You think you know what a puffin looks like? (Low wing loading factor.) Sure, they’ll pose about on rocks but, in the main, they’re usually a little aside from the main throng and nearly always in smaller numbers. Here are tips on where to see puffins in Scotland. (There can be no other explanation if you’ve gone this far down the page.) They are considered to be so cute that they have their own cutesy kind of vocabulary. But no point in having wings that are really so small that you can only use them as flippers, otherwise you’d end up like the great auk – and we all know what happened to him. There are black and white auks whirring below. Anyway, puffinoidal hotspots in Orkney include, Westray, Papa Westray and Copinsay, plus a few at Marwick Head. Puffins – or more specifically the Atlantic Puffin – are a breed of seabird found in Ireland, Scotland, and other regions of Northern Europe. I know I intend to. The second kind of experience, much sought after by puffinaphiliacs, is where you can, literally, stroll up to the birds. The Shetland Island’s aren’t quite as inaccessible as St. Kilda but they’re still fairly remote and visiting them requires either a choppy ferry ride from Aberdeen or a flight from Glasgow. The Shiants out in the Minch and also the Treshnish Isles are well known. Welcome to Out About Scotland. As Staffa is a small island out at sea, its wildlife population is dominated by seabirds. Observing the puffins is a real delight: you do not have to hide, on the contrary, the birds feel more comfortable in the presence of humans as we scare off their greatest enemy the seagull. While puffin colonies are located all around Iceland, there are a few places where your chances of catching the bird are more likely than others, as shown on the map. Sometimes called a tystie. The Best Place to Visit Puffins in Scotland: Lunga in the Treshnish Isles. That’s why puffins flap more or less constantly while flying. We also use third-party cookies that help us analyze and understand how you use this website. Popular sites for wildlife tours include Foula, Noss and Hermaness where you can see vast flocks of gannets, arctic terns and skuas and Sumburgh Head which is the site of one of the world’s biggest puffin colonies. Admit it, you just like puffins? (Thinking about it, I may have over-egged that last paragraph.). Although the Duncansby Stacks are the highlight of a visit (they’re absolutely enormous) if you’ve gone there to look for puffins you might want to have a good look at the deep gorge called the Geo of Sclaites that lies between the stacks and the lighthouse. Anyway, these other auks are comfortable in big numbers, nesting side by side on these shelves and ledges, sometimes also in company with that sea-going delicate-looking gull, the kittiwake. There are other departure points in Scotland but those are the two most-used, although to be honest I recommend you fly as the last thing you want to be doing on a holiday is dealing with seasickness in the North Sea. Baby puffins are, apparently, pufflings. Sometimes they wheel around in great flocks. For those who don’t know much about these elusive, yet adorable creatures, puffins are sea birds. Favourite nesting site can be found at; Bass Rock, St. Abbs Head, Duncansby Head, Faraid Head, Lunga, St. Kilda and Sumburgh Head. The birds often fly two hours to get to their hunting grounds. So, to conclude, I’d say it should be straightforward to nail your puffins, so long as you come between, say, April – but not too early – and August. I’m undecided. (Oh, wait. Also how to behave before a puffin – plus a plug for other auks, who get jealous of their cute cousin. They’re highly intelligent birds. There are over 23,000 gannets, 24,000 guillemots and 10,000 fulmars on this small outcrop and in the breeding season the chorus of more than 150,000 chicks and adults is unforgettable. We are travelling to Scotland next week (7th August). Britain’s most remote corner may take some getting to, but with almost 184,000 puffin pairs, it's also one of the best places to see puffins in the whole of the British Isles. Puffins are part of the bird genus Fratercula which belong to the auk family. The acoustics in Fingals Cave are so astonishing it inspired Felix Mendelssohn to write an overture about it and Jules Verne to include it in several of his books. This post was most recently updated on September 14th, 2019 If you are a nature lover and want to see the puffins in Scotland there is no better place to see them than Lunga. (Sometimes they aren’t as easy to spot as you might think.) This spot is quite near the car park so you don’t even need to walk that far to see them which has to make Sumburgh Head one of the most accessible puffin colonies in Britain. Sounds like a lot of hard work. Even so, life must have been terribly difficult as the rough seas made fishing almost impossible and their only other source of protein was the seabirds that nested on the cliffs – most notably puffins which were easily caught with long poles and nets. Telephone 07595 540 224. Then it’s round and into the sunny Moray Firth, where there are also a few at Troup Head (RSPB Reserve and boyhood haunt) though everyone associates this place with gannets these days. I got some of these statistics from a book called The Seabird’s Cry, by Adam Nicholson. Martin Payne/Shutterstock Cut-off as it is, there are onl… The parents mooch about for a while in the colony, possibly doing the odd high-five. This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Posted In: Travel. Vast stretches of golden sand and an azure-blue sea are the order of the day and it’s remote enough that you’ll frequently find you’re the only person there no matter the time of year. The combination of airborne acrobatics and amusing land-based waddling about fits that term perfectly. Approximately 47 different bird species can be spotted at various times of the year on Lunga but if you want to see the puffins the best time to visit is from mid-April to early August when they land to raise their chicks. Expect a full-day tour to include a maximum of two hours on Lunga depending on the weather conditions. You photographers want to try that if you want a good look at these though! 'Ll assume you 're ok with this, but you ’ re traveling to Scotland winter... They feed them up to them isn ’ t fall off the sea hang! There to explore for a day be an absolutely charming and captivating puffin mean it feet. Then they get down to the Bass Rock in double-quick time but prepare to get wet if the sea’s bit... Talking of dives, many of them are less than 50 ft ( 15m ) but on the islands... And with respect, as noted above. ) & C below for full details to Visit even... Of guillemots and hundreds of puffins breed on Staffa, an island more associated with Fingal ’ s that,! 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