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  • Puffins in Westray, Orkney

Birds & Bird Watching

From puffins to white-tailed eagles, Orkney’s birdlife is remarkably varied, with the islands home to no less than 13 RSPB nature reserves.

Large numbers of migratory birds pass through Orkney, and we get all manner of rare breeds appearing here too, often after being blown off course!

During the summer months, Orkney’s cliffs are home to thousands of breeding seabirds, with Marwick Head in the West Mainland, Mull Head in the East Mainland, and Noup Head in Westray, popular sites for observing.

For many people, catching a glimpse of a puffin is one of the highlights of a visit to Orkney. Known affectionately in Orkney as a Tammie Norrie, the puffin can appear clumsy on land and comical, but don't be deceived by first impressions. It is an expert diver, plunging into the sea from a height of 100 feet in search of its favourite meal - sand eels. There are reputed to be 61,000 puffins in Orkney, but of this impressive number all but 2,000 of them nest on the remote Sule Skerry, 40 miles west of the mainland.

That can make spotting them elsewhere in Orkney slightly more challenging, but you’ll have a good chance of seeing them at the Castle o’Burrian in Westray, and the Brough of Birsay in the West Mainland. Take a look at our guide on puffin-spotting in Orkney for more information.

Waders breed in Orkney’s wetlands and can also be found in the lochans on the moors of the Mainland, Rousay and Hoy. The moors are also the place to head if you’d like to try and see hen harriers and short eared owls.

And, if you’re particularly lucky, you might get to experience the sight of the white-tailed eagles which have made the island of Hoy their home.

In winter, you’ll find a huge variety of wildfowl on the freshwater lochs and in sheltered sea areas, while spring is the ideal time to enjoy seeing ducks in their finest plumage.

Top locations for bird watching

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