Migrating Birds

Spring in Scotland marks the return of many migrant birds who come here to breed over the summer months. Common migrants like the swallow and house martin, are a familiar sight returning to the same nest year after year. Both swallows and house martins build their nests from mud. Swallows can often be found nesting in barns and occasionally sheds whereas house martins, as their name suggests, prefer to nest under the eaves of houses. Swallows and house martins are sometimes confused as their appearance is similar. The best way to tell them apart is to look at their tails during flight – swallows have a long forked tail, house martins have a shorter, squarer tail and a white rump.

Swallows arrive in Scotland from southern Africa, having travelled an amazing journey across the Sahara, Morocco, eastern Spain, across the Pyrenees, western France, England and then arriving in Scotland in May. House martins and swifts also arrive from Africa at around the same time although swifts only stay long enough to breed before migrating back to Africa as early as late July.

Less common migrant birds include the dotterel, a member of the plover family, and the osprey, a bird of prey that feeds exclusively on fish.

To see a dotterel during the summer you will have to make your way to the mountains. After spending the winter in north Africa, the middle East and more unusually, Spain, the dotterel breeds solely in Scotland’s hills and mountains. Unusually for birds, it is the male dotterel who does much of the work looking after the nest and chicks when they hatch.

Ospreys migrate to Scotland from west Africa. Late April to August in the Highlands or the borders are the best places to see an osprey. The sight of an osprey diving for fish is quite remarkable. It uses its specially adapted feet, which have long scaled claws, to catch both fresh and salt water fish and it’s long hooked bill to eat them.

Other summer visitors to Scotland include the wheatear, ring ouzel, cuckoo, willow warbler and common tern also spending the winter months in Africa, arriving here in the spring for the breeding season.

Want to find out more about Scotland’s birds? Visit www.nature.scot.

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