Seasonal Wildlife

Our seasonal wildlife calendar highlights the incredible marine wildlife present in the Firth of Forth at different times of year.

January to April

Shags, eiders, gulls, cormorants and peregrines are present from the beginning of January and gannets arrive back towards the end of January, increasing steadily in number throughout February. Fulmars, razorbills and guillemots on nest sites if the weather is good and shags and peregrines displaying. Winter shorebirds such as turnstones, knot, redshanks and purple sandpiper are all present throughout the first quarter of the year, feeding among the rocks, mud, and sand for worms, molluscs and small crustaceans.

Redshanks patrolling the coastline.
(c) Jamie McDermaid

Into March, eiders, gulls, cormorants, fulmars, razorbills and guillemots more often on nest sites and displaying. Shags and cormorants start to lay eggs and gannets fully established on nest sites by the end of the month. Peregrine lay eggs at the end of the month and become more secretive over the next few months.

Eider are true sea ducks and can often been seen along the shoreline.
© Susan Davies

During April, puffins return in large numbers and begin to nest. As the month progresses gannets, razorbills, guillemots, eiders, shags, cormorants and gulls lay eggs. The first shag chicks appear by the end of the month. Sanderlings, knot, purple sandpipers, turnstones, and redshanks are harder to see now, with most returning to their overseas breeding grounds by April. Some shorebirds travel as far away as the Arctic.

A stunning video created by our friends at White Tail Films of the Bass Rock and its gannets. Bass Rock is the world's largest colony of Northern gannets and BBC Countryfile Magazine's Nature Reserve of the Year.

Wildlife boat trips
The Firth of Forth is home to internationally important colonies of breeding seabirds. One of the best ways to experience them is from one of our guided wildlife boat trips. We offer a fantastic range of trips from Easter to Autumn.

May to August

A few of the 40,000 puffin pairs on the Isle of May.
© Greg Macvean

Around 500,000 seabirds are now present on the Forth islands, including 90,000 puffins and the world's largest colony of Northern gannets. Kittiwakes and terns arrive back and begin nesting. Guillemots, razorbills, puffins, gannets, shags, cormorants, eiders, gulls and fulmars either on eggs or already have chicks. The last of the winter visitors depart northwards. June proves to be the best month to see seabirds, all feeding chicks at this time.

Puffins in the Firth of Forth.

SOS Puffin
SOS Puffin is the Scottish Seabird Centre's award-winning conservation project to protect the puffin colonies on the islands near North Berwick. Run and supported by a team of more than 1,300 volunteers, over 330 work parties have made regular trips to Craigleith, Fidra and the Lamb over the last 14 years, but more work is needed.

Come July, the breeding seasons comes to a close for all species except gannets and fulmars. Guillemots and razorbills have gone to sea by mid-July and puffins almost all gone by the end of the month. Gannet chicks are at the large, fluffy, white stage. Shag juveniles form groups with adults. Fulmar chicks appear and gull and tern chicks start to fledge.

By August, the first winter visitors, such as turnstones and redshanks, return. Gannet chicks change from white to dark juvenile plumage. Kittiwake juveniles form flocks along with adults, heading out to sea by mid-August and fulmar chicks have fledged by the end of August. Shags, eiders and gulls can be seen.

September to December

Grey seal pup.
© Maggie Sheddan

By September, many gannet chicks are fully fledged and start to leave for Africa. Winter visitor numbers increase and eiders, shags, cormorants, gulls and peregrines are present.

Most gannets leave the Bass by the end of October and head south to Africa. Winter visitors such as knot, sanderlings, redshanks, purple sandpipers and turnstones increase in number. These shorebirds return to the UK from their overseas breeding grounds, some travelling from as far North as the Arctic. Grey seal numbers start to build on the Isle of May for the breeding season, and pups are born from mid-October.

During November, grey seals start to pup on Craigleith. On the Isle of May, grey seal numbers peak at about 3,000, with pups born most days. The pups born in October moult and are weaned. Come December, the first fulmars return after 3 months at sea. The grey seal numbers dwindle although a few adults and pups remain on the islands until late December. Wintering shorebird numbers peak as all have now left their colder breeding grounds.

A sanderling foraging along the beach.
(c) Jamie McDermaid

Find out more about the amazing marine wildlife found around Scotland's shores

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The need to protect our marine environment has never been greater. We’ve been connecting people and nature for over 20 years, inspiring them to love and care for our iconic seabirds and marine wildlife. Please consider donating to support our ongoing education and conservation work. Together we can inspire even more people to understand and care about wildlife and the marine environment.