Homing 70% of UK seabirds population, it is that time of year again when Scotland’s cliffs are bustling with life. In the summer months, the sea exposed cliffs turn into a metropolis of our most loved seabirds. During this time, they are busy building a bond with their beloved partner while protecting their eggs which will soon be hatching. Once the cold winter returns, the seabirds head to open oceans, not reaching land again for yet another year. RSPB Scotland’s Niamh Byrne thought she would share some facts about her favourite seabirds she looks forward to seeing again in the future when it is once again safe to do so.
High-rise living: The return of seabirds
Gannet (Niamh Byrne)
The northern gannet is the largest seabird in the North Sea with a 2-meter width wingspan! They are large white birds with yellowish heads and black wingtips. Gannets form huge seabird cities along Scottish cliffs known as a gannetry. They are monogamous, meaning pairs will stay together for several mating seasons or potentially their entire lives. The pair take turn brooding the egg, using the warmth from their feet!
Razorbills on the Isle of May (Ian Francis)
Razorbills are black medium sized seabirds with white underparts and a thick, black bill marked with prominent white lines. They are also monogamous birds, returning to the cliffs in search for their partner after a winter apart. Razorbills lay one pear shaped egg within the cracks and crevices of the sheer cliff to prevent it rolling off. They feed on fish such as sandeels and will dive 20 metres deep for these. A razorbill was once spotted by a submersible operating 100s of metres down!
Puffins, Treshnish Isles (Ian Francis)
An unmistakable small bird, sometimes known as clowns of the sea. Identified by their black back and head, white underparts, pale cheeks and brightly coloured bill. Their vibrant display is highlighted by their orange legs and red and black eye markings. Once the breeding season wraps up, the puffins, along with their pufflings, head out to sea, transforming into small black and white birds, losing their remarkable colours until next year!
Guillemots, bridled and unbridled, Isle of May (Ian Francis)
These dark brown and white birds come to the cliffs in huge numbers to breed. Guillemots settle their pear-shaped egg on a small object such as seaweed to prevent it rolling off the cliff face. After three weeks the “jumplings” leap off the cliff all at once and swim out to sea with their beloved dads who will do the bulk of the parenting until the chicks can fend for themselves.
Kittiwake and chick, Fowlsheugh (Ian Francis)
This gentle looking gull has a small yellow bill, a dark eye and short black legs. Their dark wingtips are displayed when they soar gracefully through the air. Kittiwakes get their common name from their recognisable calls – “kittee-wa-aaake!”. During the breeding season, they glue their nests of grass, mud and seaweed onto very narrow ledges and lay two or three eggs per season.
Fulmar pair, Noup Head, Westray (Ian Francis)
Fulmars are a relation to the albatross family but are quite often mistaken for gulls! In flight, they are identified by their stiff wings and shallow wing beats. Fulmars lay a single egg on a broad cliff ledge. If threatened they will defend nests from intruders by spitting out a foul-smelling oil, better keep our distance!
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