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By Genevieve WhiteJune 12th 2023

Juan Brown is one of NatureScot's Lerwick-based operations officers and is a keen birder. Here he shares 10 of his favourite Shetland birds to watch in the summer months.

Nothing says ‘summer’ in Shetland like the return of the seabirds when, almost overnight, the islands become noisy breeding grounds.

Puffins, gannets and guillemots occupy the high-rise cliffside dwellings, while Arctic terns colonise the beaches. For the non-birder the sight and sounds of these returning birds promises longer days and warmer weather. For the birding enthusiast, however, a Shetland summer offers a bevy of birdwatching opportunities.

Juan Brown, a keen birder, first came to Shetland on a week’s birding trip in July 1994. He said: "I fell in love with the place straight away. The place, the people, and the wildlife all had an immediate hold."

When asked what makes these islands such a special place for birders, Juan replies: "Shetland is arguably the number one birding hot spot in Britain, with an enviable list of rare and breeding birds to its name. You never know what you might bump into, and on top of that, you can generally escape the crowds."

Juan adds: "In summer Shetland's seabirds come to the fore, with internationally important numbers breeding here. The sights, sounds and smells at bustling seabird colonies such as Noss, Hermaness and Sumburgh Head make for a world class wildlife experience."

The sights, sounds and smells at bustling seabird colonies such as Noss, Hermaness and Sumburgh Head make for a world class wildlife experience.

Juan Brown

We asked Juan to share a list of his top 10 Shetland summer birds. Can you spot all 10 this summer?

1. Gannet

To see these large hungry seabirds, known for the dramatic diving, head to Hermaness or Noss National Nature Reserves.

Thousands of gannets cram onto these cliffs, creating a wildlife extravaganza.

Shetland dialect name: solan.

2. Puffin

These clownish little birds with their bright orange bills are locally known as tammy nories. They are perennially popular with locals and tourists alike, and a summer trip to Shetland is incomplete without a sighting.

Sumburgh Head, Noss and Hermaness are among the best places to get close and personal with puffins, from late April to early August.

Shetland dialect name: tammy norie.

3. Great skua

The Northern Isles are the world's headquarters for this 'bully bird', although sadly a significant number succumbed to bird flu in 2022. Bonxies are well-known for aggressively defending their territory, so if you get too close to their nests, prepare to be dive-bombed!

Shetland dialect name: bonxie.

4. Arctic skua

This is the bonxie’s smaller, more elegant cousin. These seabirds’ numbers have declined in recent decades, but you can still see them chasing terns for their fish throughout the isles.

Shetland dialect name: skootie alan.

5. Black guillemot

These dapper little dudes, with black and white plumage and bright red legs can be seen fishing in the harbour in the heart of Lerwick.

Shetland dialect name: tystie.

6. Arctic tern

These elegant 'sea swallows' are the harbingers of the Shetland summer. They can be seen nesting at Mousa and Grutness. Watch out though – just like the Great Skua, terns can become quite aggressive if you get too close to their young.

Shetland dialect name: tirrick.

7. Red-throated diver

Red-throated divers nest on the edges of lochans throughout Shetland. They are protected by law against disturbance at the nest. Listen out for the goose-like call as flyover birds warn of impending rain.

Shetland dialect name: rain gòs.

8. Red-necked phalarope

This rare wader nests in Fetlar and a few other locations in Shetland. They are also protected by law. It is best to contact the RSPB to find out the best place to view them safely.

Shetland dialect name: peerie deuk.

9. Storm petrel

From late-May to mid-July you can take a guided night-time trip to Mousa to experience these amazing fairy-like birds return to their nests in the walls of the ancient broch.

Shetland dialect name: Alamootie.

10. Fulmar

Although a relatively recent colonist, the fulmar is now one of Shetland's most ubiquitous birds. Its historic global range expansion is attributed to the birds following whaling ships. Approach with caution though: fulmars defend their young by spitting out their stinky stomach oil on anyone who gets too close.

Shetland dialect name: maalie.

Shetland is a world-class destination for bird watching – find out more about the birding tours and boat trips.