Wildlife in Orkney

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Orkney has long been a haven for wildlife. From its towering sea cliffs playing home to birds such as puffins, guillemots, gulls, gannets to name a few. While the lowlands and wetlands providing the perfect habitat for birds such as curlew, hen harriers and many other birds of prey.

A trip to other smaller Orkney Islands such as Hoy may provide the lucky visitor of a glimpse of a white-tailed or golden eagle, which after an absence of 40 years have since returned to Orkney.  More importantly it has been confirmed that since the return a nesting pair have reportedly had chicks which is great news for the nesting pair.

As well as these majestic birds many migrating birds use the safe haven of Orkney while they make their epic journeys across the globe. One such bird is the Arctic Tern.

You’ll find Arctic Terns on the coasts, these small birds to look at are fierce defenders of their territory. Be warned that if you get too close to their nests, the screaming calls will be directed at you and there are known to swoop down with the occasional peck to the head. There are over 200 colonies of these lovely white birds with their black caps and long tails in Orkney. They breed in May, June and July and leave by August. Arctic Terns travel vast distances in a year.  They can be found along most coast lines, most popular destinations are Birsay, Copinsay and North Hill on Papa Westray.

Another very popular visitor to our Islands is the Puffin. These colourful clowns of the cliffs will be chattering away and creating joy to all that watch them at various locations across Orkney soon, with many arriving back in late April. With these gorgeous birds spending most of their time at sea here is a list of the best places to catch a glimpse of them when they are enjoying a wee rest cliff side. The best places to see puffins in Orkney include the Brough of Birsay, Marwick Head, and in Westray, Noup Head and the Castle of Burrian.

As well as the array of spectacular birds that fill our sky and grace our cliff tops the crystal clear waters that surround our Islands are teaming with wildlife such as Seals and Otters which can be spotted throughout Orkney. As well as seals and Otters there are regular sightings of whales, dolphins and orcas, which are becoming more and more common due to social media groups that alert the public of such encounters. Orkneys rock pools and shore lines teem with life, from limpets and sea urchins, to hermit crabs and starfish, to delight young wildlife enthusiasts.

Orkney is one of the best places to see whales & dolphins in the UK, Some species are more common than others, and as a result are easier to observe.  The Summer season from May onwards is when most animals are seen, although they can visit year-round. Porpoise can be almost guaranteed in good conditions, whilst Orca can be more unpredictable and therefore frustrating! Hoxa Head on South Ronaldsay; Marwick Head in West Mainland, and Noup Head on Westray are three favourite cetacean-watching spots.  In reality cetaceans can pop up anywhere, and frequently do!  There are various companies on the Island that offer nature walks, bird watching as well as boat charter in the quest for cetaceans.

As well as the wildlife along that way that you could spot Orkney has many costal walking routs that can be enjoyed for all levels of ability.  There are many guided walks available but if you prefer to make your own route there are a list of well known costal walks below.

Rerwick Head, Tankerness


40 minutes

Scapa Flow and Loch of Ayre, St Mary’s


1 hour

Orphir Bay, near Houton


1 hour

Kirkwall Explorer and the Peedie Sea


1 hour

Dingieshowe circuit, Deerness


1 hour

Binscarth Wood, Finstown, Mainland


1.5 hours

Covenanters Memorial, Deerness, Mainland


1.5 – 2 hours

The Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness


1 – 1.5 hours

Marwick Head and the Kitchener Memorial, Mainland


2 hours

Newark Bay and Point of Ayre, Deerness, Mainland


1 – 2 hours

Wideford and Inganess, near Kirkwall, Mainland


2 – 2.5 hours

The Brough of Birsay and Earl’s Palace, Mainland


2 – 2.5 hours

Mull Head, Deerness


2 – 3 hours

Stromness and Warbeth, Mainland


2 – 3 hours

Wideford Hill and Chambered Cairn, Kirkwall


2.5 – 3 hours

West Coast Walk Stage 2: Bay of Skaill to Birsay


3.5 – 4.5 hours

West Coast Walk 1: Stromness to Bay of Skaill


6 – 7 hours

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