Birdwatching in Scotland

Golden Eagle

Birds and Wildfowl of the Highlands

Birdwatchers and twitchers have been flocking to the Scottish Highlands for generations to feast their eyes on birds of prey, seabirds and wildfowl.

The region contains an array of internationally important bird populations and is globally significant in reintroducing previously extinct species including ospreys at Boat of Garten, red kites in the Black Isle and white tailed sea eagles on the Isle of Mull.  It is also home to game birds such as the black grouse, red grouse, ptarmigan and capercaillie, and at least a quarter of the UK’s threatened species including the majestic golden eagle.

The RSPB operates a number of reserves including Tollie Red Kites where this most graceful bird of prey is fed daily by a team of volunteers and Loch Garten Osprey Centre where you can get close up of views of these magnificent birds thanks to a CCTV link.

Reserves and other places of interest for birdspotters are scattered across the entire swathe of the Highlands, from Skye in the south Red Kiteto Dunnet Head in the north.  Even Inverness makes a good base for ornithologists.   Both within easy reach on the Black Isle, Munlochy Bay is renowned for its heronries, migrating geese, wading birds, and waterfowl, and Udale Bay is best known for its waders, wildfowl, widgeons and ospreys.

Whatever your particular bird watching preferences, the Scottish Highlands has it all; from goldeneyes, whooper swans, kittiwakes, fulmars, razorbills and puffins to falcons, lapwings, redshank, curlews, and greylag geese.  By no means an exhaustive list, it is plain that the time of year is almost irrelevant when it comes to ornithology in the Highlands.

Seasonal Highlights

Spring is to be recommended for waders, such as lapwings, redshanks and oystercatcher, migrating pink footed geese, stonechats, winchats, whitethroats, Arctic tern, Sandwich tern, eider, ringed plover, rooks, grey heron, song thrush and willow warblers.

Summer is a busy season for gulls, waders, transiting dunlin, buzzards, great spotted woodpecker, crested tit, spotted flycatcher, tree pipit, redstart, black throated divers, dipper, treecreeper, grey wagtail, hen harriers, stonechat, wheatear, and common sandpiper.

Autumn sees the arrival of winter migrating species including knot, bar tailed godwit, visitors like pintail, as well as regular sightings of kestrel, siskin, goosanders, mallards, teals, woodcock, Brent geese, shelduck, turnstone, red breasted merganser and the unique Scottish crossbill (the only species of UK bird that isn’t found anywhere else in the world).

PtarmiganWinter, meanwhile, is an equally spectacular time for spotting peregrine, wigeon, brambling, ravens, crossbills, chaffinches, bullfinch, knot, long tailed duck, common scoter, velvet scoter, dunlin, greylag geese, tawny owls and golden eagles.

As the Highlands is teeming with birdlife, you could well be forgiven for thinking that you are going to spot a bird wherever you look.

All you have to remember is to pack a stout pair of boots, binoculars and your trusty Observer Book of Birds to tick off all those new species you will spot.  Just be prepared to fall in love with birding in the Highlands and the inevitable return visits that will entail.

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