Shetland Guide Book

The Shetland landscape with its mix of croftland, “improved” farmland, moors, lochs, sheltered voes, small areas of woodland and varied coastline offers an attractive environment to about 50 land and water birds for breeding. There are also a number of irregular breeders, as well as some species which no longer bred here, but which may again in future. Changes in land use, variations in climate and supply of suitable prey are all factors which influence breeding.

While the numbers of species may be small the selection is special, and opportunities to observe them are excellent. In summer the Shetland landscape comes alive with birds. Passerines such as Twite, Wheatear, Rock and Meadow Pipits, Skylark and two subspecies of Wren. Starlings are very common around the crofts, while Blackbirds nest in small numbers. Several other species occasionally breed including Reed Bunting and White Wagtail.

Of the 13 species of waders, Whimbrel are locally common, and a small number of Red-necked Phalarope breed on Fetlar. Others include the Oystercatcher, Ringed and Golden Plovers as well as Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe and Dunlin. Corncrake, Quail and Corn Bunting have all ceased breeding no doubt due to changes in haymaking and modern agricultural practice.

The rasp of the Corncrake used to be the sound of Summer, but is no longer heard in Shetland. As traditional forms of land use disappear, so unfortunately may species which depend upon it. Red-throated Divers breed on many of the lochs and may often be seen or heard flying over on their way to and from their feeding grounds. They may often be observed from the car on small lochs, but care should be taken not to disturb them. Apart from Mallard and Teal, ducks only breed in small numbers, including Widgeon, Shoveller and Tufted Duck.

A few Mute Swans have bred in recent years and Whooper Swan have also recently bred successfully. Eider Ducks are common around the voes, while Red-breasted Mergansers breed beside freshwater lochs, but otherwise are mostly on the sea and shore. A small number of Shelduck also breed, mostly around the Pool of Virkie.

The only raptor to breed at present is the Merlin, which is recovering after a population crash in the 1980’s. The Peregrine ceased breeding in the 1990’s most likely due to harrassment by Fulmars, whose oil damages other bird’s feathers, which may also be preventing the return of the Sea Eagle. The deep croak of the Raven is often heard, and they are frequently seen over the moors and along the coast. They nest early and their display flight can enliven many a dreich early Spring day. Rock Doves are also common, and seem to have coped with the Fulmars by nesting in places such as caves which the latter do not use. They may also have benefitted from the demise of the Peregrine.

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