You may well have seen reports recently of seabirds – often guillemots and razorbills – washing up dead or very weak and thin, feeding far closer to shore than usual, or moving up rivers along the east coast of Scotland and England.

This is an unusual and worrying series of events. Extreme weather, pollution, disease and toxins can all kill seabirds. If prey fish are scarce, seabirds can be weakened through starvation. We don’t know the exact cause here, but scientists are working hard to find out more. A number of birds have been tested for Avian Influenza and all returned negative results.

We do know climate change is already affecting marine food chains, driving prey fish numbers down, creating more extreme weather events, and generating more blooms of toxic algae in our seas. The Scottish Seabird Indicator, which tracks 11 seabird species, shows a concerning overall decline of 49% since 1986, so this new additional problem comes on top of an already serious situation for our internationally important seabirds.

The world is in a nature and climate emergency and Scotland is part of it, with humans and wildlife already experiencing the impacts. We need urgent action from governments to help revive our world.

Guillemots are among the birds to have been affected. Photo credit: Paul Turner

If you find a sick or injured seabird – or any wildlife – in Scotland please contact the SSPCA on their dedicated animal helpline 03000 999 999. In England, you can call the RSPCA on 0300 123 4999.

If you find a dead seabird please do not handle it. If you want to help, you can contact the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology using Twitter by tweeting the date, place, species, age and totals of the bird(s) found and tagging the Centre’s seabird account @UKCEHseabirds. A guide on determining the age of guillemots can be found here.

If the dead birds are ringed and you can see the details without touching them you can report this to the BTO via their website here.

RSPB Scotland will be discussing this issue in the next edition of our podcast which will be out next week. Click here to subscribe and be notified when it goes live.

  • Dogs are a really big problem. So often we see dogs chasing flocks of birds. Dog owners must and need to be educated that their ‘play’ place is the home and feeding place for wild birds. Weak and dying birds make easy pickings for the 100s of dogs that run freely on beaches. 

  • Thankyou for this info. On the 29/9/21 we found 3 dead Razorbills and one weak one on Embleton beach in Northumbria. Really sad. We saw quite a few others and Guillemots swimming very near the coast. 

  • I’ve just got back from a few days at Whitby/Robin Hood’s Bay - was quite concerned about finding several razorbills dead along the cliff edges. Was wondering if they’d been washed up with the tide, or died on land.. No signs of predation. Then I also came across one which was obviously dying, just sitting on a rock with slow breathing and eyes closed. Very sad but there wasn’t the possibility for me to intervene. Would be helpful to know a number to call in England though please….

  • what about a line for dead birds in England?

  • I was at Cayton Bay near Scarborough and it was so sad to see so many dead and undernourished guillemots washing up on the shore line.