Birds of Prey
This is Orkney's most common bird of prey, with currently some 80 breeding females. The females outnumber males by about 3:1 and so they have a polygamous breeding system with each male having a harem of several females. While males are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name 'ringtail'. They fly with wings held in a shallow 'V', gliding low in search of food. Elsewhere in Britain, hen harriers are illegally persecuted by gamekeeping interests who claim that they take too many grouse. In Orkney we are fortunate that there is no driven grouse shooting and our hen harriers are left to breed in peace.
Also known as cattie faces, this is the only nesting owl in Orkney. Breeding pairs have been found on Eday, Hoy, the mainland, Rousay, Sanday, South Ronaldsay and Stronsay. The highest number are on the mainland and they are regularly seen around the airport in Tankerness. You won’t see them much in mid-winter (because they become more nocturnal) but they start to show around February through till October. Probably about 50 pairs nest in the islands. Their main prey is the Orkney vole, this small mammal making up as much as 90% of the food of many of our owls.
Hoy's female sea eagle in flight above Orkney - image by Alan LeitchIt was confirmed in April 2015 that a pair of juvenile Sea Eagles were attempting to nest in the Orkney island of Hoy. The two birds, which have been regular visitors to the island in recent years, have built an eyrie above the Dwarfie Stane, near Rackwick. According to the RSPB, the nesting attempt could fail, but the pair are being monitored carefully. Sea eagles are the UK's largest birds of prey with a wingspan of almost two-and-a-half metres. A re-introduction programme began in the late 1960s on Scotland's west coast and islands, before being expanded to the east coast. It's thought Orkney's two birds could have arrived from Scandinavia. Anyone keen to see them is asked to stay in the roadside car park, instead of heading down to the Dwarfie Stane itself, to minimise any disruption to the pair.
The fulmar is known as a mallimack or malli in Orkney dialect. Its common names are the Northern fulmar, fulmar petrel or Arctic fulmar and its proper name is Fulmarus glacialis. Orkney is a paradise for seeing seabirds but don’t get too close to t…More
The guillemot (Uria aalge), known as the aak in Orkney, has a dark brown head, neck and upperparts. It has a distinctive white line across closed wings. The bill is black and tapering and legs are dark blue. The guillemot’s eggs are pear shaped to …More
There are about 10,000 razorbill (Alca torda) in Orkney – a member of the auk family locally called the coulter-neb or sometimes the sea crow (sea craa). They are noisy, quarrelsome birds that nest in colonies on sea cliffs or boulders undercliff b…More
Everybody’s darling, the puffin, or the tammie norrie as it is affectionately known in Orkney, brings a smile to the face of anyone lucky enough to see it. This small auk is worth seeking out in some of the hotspots in the isles where they come eve…More
This large, bright, attractive bird with black wingtips is known as the solan goose in Orkney. There are 5,000 pairs in Orkney with the largest colony on remote Sule Stack 40 miles west of mainland Orkney. In 2003, part of the colony moved from Sule …More
This great pirate of the skies is infamous in Orkney for terrorising anyone who goes near its nest during the breeding season. Always known in Orkney as the bonxie, its dive-bombing tactics around your head can be scary, although it rarely draws bloo…More
Lapwing Also known as a teeick in Orkney (and a peewit elsewhere in the country), these are less common than they were, possibly as a result of land drainage, but the breeding population is around 4,000 pairs. During autumn and winter, flocks of up …More
Shelduck A mainly black and white duck with a conspicuous chestnut breast band; larger than a mallard but smaller than geese such as greylag and Canada. It has a particularly prominent red bill, black-green head, and chestnut and white upperparts. I…More