Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Where to see the colourful Puffin (Fratercula arctica). Which belongs to the Auk family. Also Known as the “sea parott” and “sea clown”.
The Puffin spends much of the time at sea. However they return to costal breeding colonies. So as to breed. The Breeding season is from around beginning of April to end of July. As a result this is the best time to see them.
Puffins breed in colonies around our coast. Also 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.
You can see Puffins in many locations around the Scottish coast and on Island around Scotland.
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.
Beyond St Kilda. The largest breeding colonies outside St Kilda are in the Shetland Isles. Here Puffins are known as ‘Tammie Norries’. They can be seen at the following locations:
- Sumburgh Head, Shetland Islands
- Hermaness, Unst, Shetland Isles
- Noss, Shetland Islands
- Foula, Shetland Isles
- Fair Isle
You can also see Puffins around other Shetland locations in smaller numbers. For example 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. However St Kilda is not easy to reach. Primary difficulty being weather. Consequently we have had an umber of tips cancelled. 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 Puffins within a few yards of the car park. There are a number of other special qualities about the area. Notably the road to Sumburgh has a barrier and lights. This is specifically to control traffic allowing planes to take off. where cars are. At nearby Sumburgh airport this is a daily occurrence.
Sumburgh Head is also home to the first Shetland lighthouse. Built in 1821. The lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson and is a category A listed building. The recently completed Sumburgh Head project has restored the lighthouse and developed the area into a major visitor centre. Puffins here can be seen on the cliff tops around the lighthouse and centre. Also the constant visitor traffic appear to have little impact. 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. He was based at the Sumburgh radar station 100 miles north of Scapa Flow. Thus an advanced warning was raised. As a result the raid was repelled.
You can find out more about Sumbugh Head and it’s history at http://www.sumburghhead.com/.
Noss – See Puffins up close
Described as being strictly for the birds. Noss was declared a national Nature Reserve in 1955.
A small inflatable boat operated by the Warden. Operates from Bressay during the summer season. Operating times are (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 beginning from the centre. The shore and cliff face changes rising towards the Noup. This creates homes for a variety of different sea birds. This is the main stretch of coast from which to see Puffins. Inland, in contrast, much of the landscape is moorland. This creates an ideal environment for the Bonxie and is also covered with heather.
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 provides no evidence of what lies beyond. Eventually you arrive at the cliff tops. Suddenly the landscape changes. The magic sounds and sights of the various seabirds are revealed.
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.