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 every year to breed between May and early August. The best site in Orkney to see large numbers is Castle of Burrian on Westray. Here you can sit on the cliffsides for hours and watch these charming birds fly with their catch to their burrows and crevices in the cliffs. You can also get close views at the RSPB’s North Hill reserve on Papa Westray and you can spot a few at Marwick Head in the west mainland, at the Old Man of Hoy, Noup Cliffs on Westray and the isle of Copinsay. There are 61,000 puffins in Orkney but 59,000 of these are on remote Sule Skerry, 40 miles west of the Orkney mainland.
The puffin is much smaller than expected on the first encounter. But though they appear clumsy on land and comical, the puffin is an expert diver and underwater flier while fishing and it flies in the air with very fast wing beats to keep itself aloft. It can hold many fish, sandeels are the favourite, in its beak, while photographers wait for that elusive shot. Just one egg is laid a year. The chick is fed frequently and leaves the nest alone around July for the sea. It will make no landfall for the first two years of its life. Outside the breeding season the puffin spends all its time at sea in the north Atlantic and North Sea. But when they land they must be the most popular bird to photograph, being snapped up for guidebooks, postcards and merchandise wherever they go.
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…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 St…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
Birds of Prey
Hen-harrier 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 …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