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Bird Flock

Birds and Birdwatching on Hoy


The importance of Orkney for its breeding birds is reflected in the fact that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has at least a dozen reserves in the islands: the spectacular, mountainous, reserve of Hoy is just one of them.As the RSPB themselves say of the Hoy Reserve:

Seasonal highlights

Each season brings a different experience at our nature reserves. In spring, the air is filled with birdsong as they compete to establish territories and attract a mate. In summer, look out for young birds making their first venture into the outside world. Autumn brings large movements of migrating birds - some heading south to a warmer climate, others seeking refuge in the UK from the cold Arctic winter. In winter, look out for large flocks of birds gathering to feed, or flying at dusk to form large roosts to keep warm.


This is the best time of year to spot hen harriers on the moorland. Seabirds arrive during May - look out for puffins at the Old Man of Hoy and bonxies (great skuas) on the moorland. Primroses and Arctic alpines are flowering. Emperor moths emerge from their cocoons. New leaves start to emerge on the native trees in early May.

great skua

Guillemot (illustration)

Hen harrier (artwork)

Puffin (illustration)

Great skua


Hen harrier



June is the best month to visit the seabird cliffs. Red-throated divers can be seen on the Sandy Loch and stonechats on the moorland. Look out for amazing insects such as green tiger beetles and common hawker dragonflies along the footpaths. Wonderful for wildflowers on the Post Road footpath (between Sandy Loch and Rackwick), including three species of heather, seven species of orchid, cotton grass, ragged robin, sundews, yellow rattle and St John's wort. Whales and dolphins can be seen around the coast.



red throated diver




Red-throated diver




This is an exciting time of year to spot migrant birds - almost anything can turn up! Look out for redwings, bullfinches from northern Europe and bramblings, plus flocks of barnacle and greylag geese overhead. Grey seal pups are born around the coast during October. Flocks of wading birds feed around the shore. Autumn colours of deer grass and rowan berries decorate the moor.

barnacle goose




Barnacle goose






A quiet time of year on the Hoy reserve, though there are still some interesting species to spot. Mountain hares look dazzling in white winter coat on the hill tops. Wintering birds such as long-tailed ducks and great northern divers can be seen around the coast.


great northern diver

long tailed duck



Great northern diver

Long-tailed duck



Star Species on Hoy


Great skua

Great skuas are fierce seabirds described as 'piratical' - they chase other birds, such as terns, and force them to give up their food. They come to Hoy to breed but spend all their other time at sea. Be careful you don't get too close to their nests as they have little hesitation in dive-bombing potential threats!

great skua

Hen harrier

Hen harriers can be seen here at any time of year. To see a 'ghostly' grey adult male can be especially thrilling.

hen harrier


Enjoy the comical antics of puffins in spring and early summer. Watch the adults returning from fishing forays at sea with sand eels hanging from their colourful beaks.


Red-throated diver

Red-throated divers are adapted for life on the water - they are very clumsy indeed on land as their feet are so far back on their bodies. Look for them on the sea as they go fishing.

red throated diver


Perky stonechats perch proudly in prominent places. They are a common sight at Hoy. Pairs remain together throughout the year and you can see family groups in summer.


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