In April, we had our first ‘Guided Seabird Walk’ of the season at our Dunnet Head reserve and it did not disappoint! RSPB Scotland’s, Jen Mullen, tells us more about the species recorded.

Seabirds soar back to Scottish cliffs

Spring has well and truly arrived at the cliffs of Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain, and with it comes a symphony of seabirds. They have returned to the cliffs to breed after spending the winter out in the Atlantic, and it is definitely a sight (and sound!) not to be missed.

Dunnet Head Site Manager, Dave Jones, was joined by some of our members to see what seabirds have started to appear on the reserve. The weather was on their side. A fairly calm and, at times, sunny afternoon welcomed them as they journeyed towards a safe spot to view the stunning sea cliffs. It soon became apparent that they were in for a real treat.

Fulmar and kittiwake on nest sites

Fulmar and kittiwake were both seen on their precarious nest sites on the cliff edges. Fulmars are almost gull-like but with a thick neck and a strong, stubby bill and pronounced nostrils. They are related to the albatrosses. They fly low over the sea on stiff wings and they feed in flocks out at sea. They defend their nests from intruders by spitting out a foul-smelling oil.

Kittiwakes are a gentle-looking, medium sized gull with a small yellow bill, dark eye and slightly forked tail. In some areas of the UK, the breeding population is declining. This could be due to a shortage of sand-eels, a crucial food source, due to warming seas and potential depletion of sandeel stocks by commercial fishing.


Pair of kittiwakes

Guillemots and razorbills ashore

The group were treated to excellent views of guillemots and razorbills. Guillemots are one of the most numerous birds in the ‘seabird cities’ that occur along the UK’s coast. They spend most of their life at sea, only coming to land to breed. Many people think that these black and white seabirds look a little like penguins.

Razorbills are slightly smaller than guillemot and they have a much thicker neck. They also have a very striking white line at the tip of their bill. Like guillemots, razorbills only come to shore to breed and they winter in the northern Atlantic. Fishing nets, pollution and declining fish stocks all threaten the razorbill.


Group of guillemots

Puffins in flight

Quite possibly, one of the cutest looking seabirds out there! Their lovely orange feet can melt one’s heart as they awkwardly take flight. In the run up to breeding season, there are many ritualised displays including males flicking their heads up and down, and pairs knocking their bills together noisily. When feeding young, they can carry several fish in their bills at once.

During the afternoon, the group also saw great skuas, great black-backed gulls, a pied wagtail, a rock dove and a nice, bright male wheatear. Skylark and meadow pipits were heard singing in the distance and there were gannets and shags passing in the breeze.

A fine list for an April afternoon indeed. It is still early in the season too, so the cliffs at Dunnet Head will welcome many more birds over the next few months and we are excited to witness their young grow up and fledge.


Pair of puffins

We’d love for you to join us and see this amazing ‘Seabird City’ for yourself. The walks are open to all and run every Thursday until 15th August.  Find out more here.

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