Birds and Wildlife - be inspired by nature

With its largely unspoilt environment, Rousay is the perfect location for wildlife to thrive in its natural habitats.

The island is home to a range of breeds of bird, including some that are becoming increasingly rare around the rest of Britain. Even the Short-toed Eagle was reportedly recently spotted here; This rare bird has only been seen in Great Britain once before - back in 1999!

Rousay's wildlife includes the unique Orkney vole, while the many seals are a delight to watch from the shore.

The best time of year to visit Rousay for birdwatching is in the summer months, when the breeding season is underway, but an autumn visit is an opportunity to see baby Grey seals.

Trumland Nature Reserve

Trumland Nature Reserve, managed by the RSPB, provides excellent opportunities to spot Rousay's many species of bird. The reserve, which is open all-year-round, is FREE to visit, and features two nature trails.

On these fascinating trails, you'll need good walking boots as you experience moorland conditions, which provides a mire habitat for a number of breeding birds. Much of the reserve has previously been cut for peat, forming interesting shapes on the land. The nearby woodland at Trumland House and Gardens provides a much-needed habitat, while the rocky outcrops on the hillside (also known as 'hamars', from Old Norse) act as a nesting ground for Fulmars - an opportunity to see them nest well inland, when they would normally nest on cliffs near the sea.

The shortest trail is 1.5km long, and takes approximately 1 hour. For a longer trek, try the 5km route, although this takes about 3 hours to complete, but takes in the highest part of Rousay - Blotchnie Fiold - which extends to 250 metres at its peak, providing some breathtaking views of the island and beyond.

The two routes start at the same point, initially following the track at the 'Hass (valley) of Trumland', where you may see breeding Oystercatchers, Red Grouse, Reed Buntings, Twites, and, if you look to your left - particularly at dawn or dusk - you might spot the Short-eared Owl. As you ascend, you might be lucky enough to witness the male Hen Harrier's dramatic 'sky dance' in the breeding season. Watch in awe as he twists and turns, with the females following closely, so as to catch the food the male passes down - it really is a spectacular sight. And, as the Hen Harriers in the Orkney Islands are polygynouse, one male will mate with two or more females.

The longer route incorporates the Loch of Knitchen; a popular breeding ground for Red-throated Divers, the smallest of the Diver species in Great Britain.

The Reserve also features: Arctic Skua; Common Kestrel; Common Sandpiper; Curlew; Dunlin; Golden Plover; Great Skua (also known as 'Bonxies', a name of Shetland origin); Greylag Geese; Meadow Pipit (the commonest songbird in upland areas); Merlin; Peregrines; Snipe; Skylark; Starling (nesting in old rabbit burrows on the reserve); Stonechat; and Wheatear.

Both of the walks are well-marked by white-topped posts.

Trumland House Gardens & Trumland Wood

If you visit the spectacular gardens at Trumland House, take a walk through Trumland Wood. One of very few wooded areas in the Orkney Islands, it provides a wonderful setting for a number of species of bird, including: Blackbird; Chaffinch; Dunnock; Robin; Song Thrush; Willow Warbler; Wren.

Rousay is one of only three islands in the Orkney Islands on which the Orkney vole lives (a further two islands feature a related subspecies). A subspecies of the common vole, these are about twice as large, with shorter, paler fur. These unique creatures are not found anywhere else in the world, and are thought to have first been introduced to the islands in Neolithic times, at least 4,600 years ago. The Orkney vole thrives in rough grassland and old peat cuttings found on the moorland, and numbers are at their peak around August. They are very quick, and are known to be good swimmers. And being the only rodent which is active by day (as well as night) on the island, makes them an unfortunate source of food for birds of prey, such as Hen Harriers, Kestrels, and Short-eared Owls. The Orkney vole is particularly active at dawn and dusk, and is particularly prevalent at Trumland Nature Reserve.

Faraclett Head Walk & Sea Birds

If you want to see some sea birds whilst you are on Rousay, then Faraclett Head Walk is an excellent coastal path upon which to do so. Covering 3.5km along a circular route, it features various species, such as the following: Arctic Skua; Arctic Tern; Great Skua ('Bonxies'); Guillemot; Peregrine; Puffin; Raven; and the bulky and distinctive Razorbill.

Arctic Terns in particular are a regular sight, as they come here every summer to breed, before returning to cold Antarctica. Watch as they return from feeding on Sandeels (small, eel-like fish) at sea, and find themselves being chased for their food by the Arctic and Great Skuas!

Sacquoy Head & Saviskaill Head & Arctic Skuas & Puffins

The coastal walk around Sacquoy Head and Saviskaill Head is well-known for its Arctic Skuas - nicknamed 'pirates of the sky' as they chase other seabirds such as Arctic Terns (in their large colonies in the summer here) and Puffins, stealing their fish.

The gathering of Atlantic Puffins along the coast here is a beautiful sight, especially in the summer afternoon and evenings. Watch as they take off from the cliffs, and swoop down into the sea, bobbing about on the surface, amongst other birds - other common sights along this coastal walk, include: Common Gull; Cormorants; Eider; Golden Plover; Great Black-backed Gull; Great Skua; Oystercatcher; Ringed Plover; and Snipe. The coastal walk totals 6.4km return.

Hellia Spur

A walk out to Rousay's highest cliff, Hellia Spur will show you breeding Guillemot, Kittiwake and Razorbill during the summer months. A few Puffins nest in burrows at the top of these steep cliffs.

The Loomachun Walk & Red-throated Divers

The Loomachun Walk (4.7km return), over wild moorland, takes you up to the Loch of Loomachun, where Red-throated Divers breed from May to August, while the old peat track up to Rousay's largest loch, the Muckle Water, is another opportunity to see breeding Red-throated Divers, and is 3.5km return.

Many other birds also populate Rousay, and are located at various locations around the island, including: Black Guillemot (Tystie); Cormorant; Lapwing; Oystercatcher (often locally known as 'Scotties'); Pheasant; Redshank; Shag; Starling; and countless other species, including 5 species of Gull.

Seals & Otters

The Orkney Islands as a whole is well-known for its strong seal population, being home to around 25,000 Grey Seals (or 'Atlantic Grey Seals') and 7,000 Common Seals (also known as 'Harbour Seals').

Rousay is a brilliant location should you wish to spot some of these amazing creatures. They are a joy to see as they swim around the surrounding waters, but they spend around 90% of their life on land, so watch out for them when they are hauled out, basking in the sun on the rocks at Saviskaill Bay. Whilst they are very curious creatures, they are also quite shy, but you can get reasonably close if you are quiet and approach slowly, with respect for the seals and their environment. Sometimes whistling can hold their attention, due to their curious nature.

Despite being the third-rarest seal in the world, the Grey seal can be seen all-year-round in Rousay, but are most often seen during the autumn (breeding season). Female Grey seals usually come ashore from late September onwards to have pups - the baby Grey seals are undeniably cute, as they are born with a distintive silky white coat, which is shed at around 3- or 4-weeks-old. The Common seal pups are born in late June and July. Unlike the Grey seal, Common seals are born in their adult coat, but grow to be smaller in size than their Grey seal counterparts.

But before you even arrive on the island, you have a chance to spot dolphins or whales swimming alongside the ferry to Rousay. Humpback Whales, Killer Whales, and Minke Whales are reported to have been spotted, particularly around June-October time. Some species of dolphin are increasingly common in the Orkney Islands, so you may well be very fortunate to see Harbour Porpoise - especially in the summer, when they are most frequently seen in June and July. Great Northern Divers can be seen from the ferry during the winter months, while in spring and winter, Long-tailed Ducks are seen in the sounds around Rousay, especially in Wyre Sound. Basking Sharks have also been seen in the waters surrounding Rousay.

Otters may also been seen on Rousay, but they tend to be rather elusive, and are more likely to be seen at dawn or dusk. Places to try and spot them, include Saviskaill Bay, Trumland Nature Reserve and particularly along the Point of Skae (South-West Rousay).


Mute Swans are often seen in parts of the island. These peaceful, beautiful birds are wonderful to observe, as they elegantly swim alongside the seals at Saviskaill Bay, or in amongst the crannogs and other waterfowl (including migrating waders) in the Loch of Wasbister. The Loch of Scockness is also popular with migrating waders and waterfowl.

Bumblebees, Caterpillers, Butterflies & Moths

Rousay features several rare species of bumblebee, one of which - the Great Yellow Bumblebee - is now extremely rare in the rest of Great Britain, with the Orkney Islands one of few places left to spot it.

Rousay contains several species of caterpiller, and resident and migrant butterflies and moth, including the Emperor Moth - one of the largest moths found in Great Britain - and the nocturnal, Garden Tiger Moth.