Birds of the Hebrides

15 May 2022
The majestic white-tailed eagle is often seen soaring above our house

The Outer Hebrides is an amazingly diverse and interesting place for birdwatching, and species rarely seen in other locations can often be spotted here. Our islands are on the migratory routes of many seabirds, which means we get to observe an ever changing variety of life throughout the year.

Our ideally-situated home allows us constant access to this natural wonder and we’ve been able to capture many birds on camera, some of whom are brave enough to venture into our garden, while others prefer to remain just beyond it. This post highlights a selection of the birds which we regularly observe from the comfort of our Hebridean home.

BIRDS WHICH COME INTO OUR GARDEN
We attract smaller birds such as finches, robins, sparrows, siskins, redwings, tits and warblers by hanging out feeders filled with seeds. Starlings occasionally perch awkwardly on the feeders but find fallen seed or chicken corn easier pickings, as do blackbirds and pigeons. A snipe has also visited our garden looking for worms, and the crows, while at times landing on the ground, tend to prefer the safety of the trees.

Siskins are a type of finch
Starlings sometimes balance on the feeder
Trusting robins come very close
Snipes use their long bills to probe wet ground
BIRDS WHICH DON’T COME INTO THE GARDEN
We can regularly observe the antics of curlews, lapwings, oystercatchers and corncrakes and, although we can hear cuckoos at this time of year, we only occasionally get a glimpse of these elusive birds perched on telegraph wires overhead or sitting on a nearby crag. Cormorants, guillemots and shags are also regular visitors to the feeding grounds just offshore from our garden.
Curlews are the largest wading bird in Scotland, probing their long bills into soft mud for worms and crustaceans
Lapwings are also waders and, like curlews, their numbers are being threatened by intensive farming practices
Noisy and excitable oystercatchers run along the sand in 'piping parties' to help establish their territory
The cuckoo is much more often heard than seen.
Numbers are declining due to declines in host species

LARGER SEABIRDS
The most common larger seabirds we can observe from our garden are seagulls, gannets, herons and terns. A few metres away, at the end of a rough path, there is a manmade rock pool which in times past was used to capture fish and ensure a steady supply of food. The pool is basically a wall of rocks which traps water and small fish on the outgoing tide and provides a superb buffet-style meal for anyone passing by.

Herons at the rock pool
Feeding time at the rock pool

Another very common bird is the Greylag goose, which returns every year to breed in this area, so we also get to see their young taking their first steps. Unfortunately the geese are considered a pest to sheep farmers throughout the Hebrides, as they compete for young grass shoots at this time of year. However, so far the geese on our island have thankfully been left to their own devices.

Greylag geese nest among the heather and produce around 3-5 young

BIRDS OF PREY
We are very fortunate to get the chance to regularly see magnificent birds of prey, such as hawks and white-tailed eagles, flying overhead or even landing close by. We’re often alerted of their approach by the warning calls of crows, gulls and other birds threatened by their presence, so we have time to whip out the camera and snap some wonderful shots. This is a photo of two crows seeing off an eagle which had landed on the headland outside our house. Just look at the size of those wings!

The white-tailed eagle is the UK's largest bird of prey, with a weight of over 5kg and a wingspan of up to 2.5m

DOMESTIC BIRDS
We can’t finish this post without mentioning our own hens and cockerels, who, as well as having their own fenced coop in which to peck and preen and play, are sometimes allowed into the garden to forage for insects, worms and other interesting creatures (we observed one of the hens swallow a small frog she uncovered near the compost heap just recently).

Last October we reported on our attempts to incubate hen eggs, in our quest to expand our small flock of layers. You never know what you’re going to get when you incubate your own eggs and we ended up with two cockerels, so earlier this year we took an alternative route and acquired three new young females from elsewhere. We now have six lovely laying hens, whose work is ably overseen by two feisty and highly protective roosters.

Two of our old ladies
One of our new hens
One of our roosters

There are many more birds to be found in the Outer Hebrides, too many to cover in this short post, but we hope this has given a taste of those we are regularly treated to from the ideal vantage point of our Hebridean home.

Note: Since publishing this blog post, a cuckoo and an oystercatcher have both now ventured into our garden!

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