Puffin gathering nest material. (image by Jon Dunn www.jondunn.com) Sumburgh Head provides ideal conditions for breeding seabirds, which are present in internationally important numbers. Located at the southern tip of mainland Shetland, Sumburgh Head is one of the most accessible seabird colonies in Britain and is a well-established RSPB nature reserve.
The cliffs surrounding the site are teeming with seabirds throughout the summer, including Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars.
The early years of a seabird's life are all about survival and learning. While a large number of seabirds gather at Sumburgh Head every year, not all are breeding here. Most species do not breed until they are several years old, but many species are very long-lived. Puffins, for example, can live to be 25 years old and Fulmars may reach 40.
Seabird chicks will spend varying lengths of time in the colony before fledging. Guillemots and Razorbills may stay for less than three weeks, jumping from the cliffs before they can fly, while Fulmar chicks may remain in the nest for up to eight weeks.
Kittiwakes by Andy Hay. Image supplied by RSPB Scotland In autumn, Sumburgh Head’s position at the southern tip of Shetland mainland makes it a great place to see birds on migration. Sharp-eyed visitors may be lucky enough to spot some of the rare migrant birds that turn up here each year.
Sumburgh Head is a much quieter place in winter, as the breeding season lasts only three or four months during the summer. Only Fulmars, Shags, Black Guillemots and gulls are commonly seen through the winter.