Over recent years Orkney has welcomed orcas, sea eagles and even a walrus, highlighting just how special our nature and wildlife attractions are.
And now the focus returns to an old favourite as we wait for the return of our puffin population. These colourful clowns of the cliffs will be chattering away at various locations across Orkney soon, with many arriving back in late April.
They always prove popular with both visitors and locals. With their technicolour bills, distinctive black and white plumage and bright orange legs, our puffins are a welcome addition to the coastline, building burrows alongside our other seabirds, including fulmars, guillemots, gannets and kittiwakes.
Puffins are known as ‘tammie norries’ in Orkney and actually spend most of their lives at sea. They return to their breeding colonies around April and May where they lay only a single egg. They then begin to leave their cliffside burrows in August.
So, if you want to watch a glimpse of these little characters, you’ll have to be quick. Here are some of the best places to see puffins in Orkney.
Castle of Burrian, Westray
This is probably Orkney’s prime puffin-spotting site. A small sea stack provides the perfect home for hundreds of tammie norries during the summer months, and the surrounding cliffs form an almost natural amphitheatre, offering excellent vantage points to see them.
RSPB Hoy Nature Reserve, Hoy
A visit to this truly wild landscape is a must during your time in Orkney. With vast moorland stretching out to the tallest vertical sea cliffs in the UK, the Hoy scenery is spectacular. Puffins can be found on the cliffs near the famous Old Man of Hoy sea stack along with plenty of other seabirds. You might also be lucky and see Hoy’s sea eagles in the nearby Rackwick valley too.
Brough of Birsay, West Mainland
This tidal island off the west coast of the Orkney mainland is a fantastic place to visit. Time your arrival at low tide so you can cross the concrete causeway and you can usually find puffins on the cliffs around the island, particularly close to the lighthouse on the west side. Take some time to visit the remains of the ancient settlements too. Don't leave it too late before returning back across the causeway though - the tide comes in quickly and you can easily become stuck. Make sure you double check the tide times before crossing and leave the island with plenty of time to cross back over to the mainland. You can find a link to the tide times on our Today page, at the Visit Scotland Information Centre in Kirkwall or you can contact the visitor centre at Skara Brae on 01856 841 815 for details.
RSPB Marwick Head, West Mainland
Another dramatic stretch of coastline, Marwick Head is also one of Orkney’s seabird cities, welcoming thousands of species. Picking out a puffin amongst all the guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars can be a challenge but keep your eye on the greener slopes and around the rocks and you should see their distinctive bills.
Other locations, including Papa Westray and Stronsay, also offer some perfect puffin-spotting opportunities. And, whilst there is no doubt that puffins are beautiful and entertaining, they are just a small part of Orkney’s seabird population. Remember to take some time at all our recommended locations to watch the other resident species.