Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
The colourful Puffin (Fratercula arctica) belongs to the Auk family. The Puffin spends much of the time at sea and is best seen during the breeding season. Known as “sea parotts” and “clowns of the sea” Puffins arrive at colonies for breeding from around beginning of April to end of July.
Puffins breed in colonies around our coast where they nest in burrows, usually laying a single egg. The best time to view Puffins is around mid July when the puffling is being fed sand eels prior to leaving the burrow.
Puffins can be seen in many locations around the Scottish coast and Islands.
Here we have put together a Gallery of Puffin images from around Scotland. Including images from Noss and Sumburgh on the Shetlands and the Isle of May.
Where to see puffins in Scotland
St Kilda holds the largest UK colony of Puffins. With around 25% of the UK population St Kilda is home to around 270,000 sea birds during the breeding season.
Outside St Kilda the largest breeding colonies are found in the Shetland Isles. Here ‘Tammie Norries’ as they are known locally can be seen in large numbers at the following locations:
- Sumburgh Head, Shetland Islands
- Hermaness, Unst, Shetland Isles
- Noss, Shetland Islands
- Foula, Shetland Isles
- Fair Isle
Puffins can also be seen in smaller numbers around other Shetland locations including Fetlar, Out Skerries and Burravoe on Yell. If travelling to the far north or St Kilda is out of the question Puffins can be found on the Isle of May in the Forth estuary. Other notable Puffin Colonies around Scotland include the Shiant Isles, Handa and Treshnish Isles.
Best places to see puffins
So where is the best place in Scotland to see Puffins? I would think St Kilda, but unfortunately not managed to get there yet. Twice we have booked trips only to be cancelled by bad weather. Hoping to correct this soon. Of the places we have visited Sumburgh, Noss and Hermaness would be in our first choices. Each of these locations has something special to offer.
Sumburgh is probably unique in that you can see birds within a few yards of the car park. There are a number of other special qualities about the area. How many locations do you know where cars are stopped on the road to allow a plane to take off? At nearby Sumburgh airport this is a daily occurence. Sumburgh Head is also home to the first lighthouse to be built in the Shetland Isles. The lighthouse is a category A listed building designed by Robert Stevenson and built in 1821. The recently completed Sumburgh Head project has restored the lighthouse and developed the area into a major visitor centre. The Puffins here can be seen on the cliff tops around the lighthouse and centre and appear to be effected very little by the constant traffic of visitors. Best time to see the Puffins is still however earlier morning or evening outside opening hours (10:00 – 16:00).
Sumburgh Head World War 2
Sumburgh played a significant role during the 2nd World War. The Sumburgh Head lighthouse, from 1939, being the location of one of Britains naval and air defence radar stations. During World War 2 the North Sea was the favoured route to the Atlantic for enemy shipping and submarines. The radar station at Sumburgh played a crucial role in detecting enemy naval and air presence in the area.
On April 8th 1940, the evening of the German invasion of Norway, 60 Luftwaffe bombers took off from Germany. Their target being destruction of the British home fleet at Scapa Flow. The raid was detected by Sub-Lieutenant George Clifford Evans who was based at the Sumburgh radar station 100 miles north of Scapa Flow. This allowed an advanced warning to be raised and the raid was repelled.
You can find out more about Sumbugh Head and it’s history at http://www.sumburghhead.com/.
Noss was declared a national Nature Reserve in 1955 and could be described as being strictly for the birds. The island is reached from Bressay by a small inflatable operated by the warden during the summer season (late April – late August) except Monday and Thursdays.
Noss is a small Island of about 313 hectares. In spite of the small size the island holds a diverse population of sea birds, Guillemots being the most common.
The list of species is impressive and includes:
- Black Guillemot
- Great Black Backed Gull
- Herring Gull
- Great Skua (Bonxie)
- Arctic Skua (now rare on Noss)
It is the range of birds in such a small area and the close access to many of these birds which makes Noss special. A trek round the coast of Noss is a relatively easy walk although the climb to the 180 metre Noup is fairly steep in places. Working round the coast the shore and cliff face changes rising towards the Noup creating a variety of suitable homes for the different sea birds. Inland much of the landscape is moorland covered in heather creating an ideal environment for the Bonxie.
Hermaness on Unst is a National Nature Reserve and a land of contrast. The cliffs around Hermaness provide homes to around 110, 000 sea birds while inland the moorland provides a landscape containing a variety of plant life. This moorland is home to Red-throated Diver, Plover, Snipe, Dunlin, Arctic Skua. The moorland is also the land of the Bonxie (Great Skua) for this is one of the largest colonies in the world with an estimated 650 breeding pairs.
To see Puffins at Hermaness you follow the trail over the moorland to the cliffs. The walk from the car park at Hermaness over the barren moorland reveals a land of contrast. The trail reveals no evidence of what lies beyond. Suddenly, like a theatre curtain being opened, you arrive at the cliff tops and the magic sounds and sights of the various seabirds is unveiled.
The Puffins here nest at different levels on the cliff sides, but some are very accessible at the cliff tops. Hermaness is also one of the best places to see and get close to Gannets.