Puffins in Shetland Islands

July, 2013

Shetland is one of the best destinations to see and photograph Atlantic puffins. Sumburgh Head, Noss, Hermaness, Fair Isle offer brilliant opportunities to encounter this charismatic bird.

Sumburgh Head RSPB reserve. It is a lovely place offering many photographic opportunities. There is good amount of puffins to spot from the viewing points on the cliffs. June - July is a perfect time to photograph puffins in flowering pink sea thrift.

Hermaness Nature Reserve. The cliffs are home to numerous nesting seabirds including a big colony of puffins. It's about an hour walk from the car park to the cliffs. 

A tiny island of Noss has around 2000 pairs of puffins and offers amazing views of 23,000 gannets, 24,000 guillemots and 10,000 fulmars nesting on the cliffs.
To get to Noss you must take a ferry from Lerwick to Bressay.  

From Bressay you have to travel 3 miles across the island to get on a inflatable motorboat which takes you across the narrow gap of water to the island.


To us Fair Isle is one of the best places to photograph Puffins. It’s a 'get-away-from-it-all' destination, not overcrowded with tourists. Most important it is one of a few places where you are able to stay overnight on the island, which allows you to photograph birds in the morning and evening light. 

Fair Isle is a very quiet and remote location, in fact it is the most remote island in the United Kingdom. It is only 5 kilometers length and 3 kilometers width. It is inhabited by thousands of seabirds but only by 60 people.

Fair Isle can be reached from the Shetland mainland either by a cargo ship "Good Shepherd" for 12 passengers or by 8 - seater “Islander” aircraft. Due to very fast changing weather, fog, strong winds, ferry and flights can be cancelled. So leave plenty of leeway. If you are suffering from seasickness, we strongly advise not to take a ferry. It is a very rocky ride. Our 2.5 hour trip seemed an awful long way. For our return trip we've booked plane tickets.

The main puffin colonies are located in the North of Fair Isle. Accommodation wise, the ideal place to stay is Bird Observatory & Guesthouse. Puffins are nesting just a few minutes walk from the Observatory. South Lighthouse bed&breakfast is ~ 2 miles from the main puffin colonies.

Breeding season is a busy time for puffins. All the necessary material for their nests puffins carry in the beak.

We are not sure what this puffin intended to do with a bone but other puffins seemed to be interested in it as well…     

Puffins raise one chick at a time and feed it 5-8 times daily rushing home with the beaks full of sand eels. 

During the middle of the day the life in the colony is quiet; some puffins spend time preening, others are down in the burrows or out at sea feeding, some stand by their burrow entrances and interact with other birds.  

Photographing puffins in flight is very challenging as they fly up to 55 mph. Fast 300 mm f2.8 lens, good wind direction and light enables to capture some flight images.  

Most puffin colonies are empty soon after mid-August.

So if  you just want to see most charming puffins or photograph them, Shetland is definitely the place to visit.


Some Puffin Facts

  • Puffins can dive down 60m under water.
  • They usually pair up with the same partner as previous years.
  • Both parents take it in turn to incubate the egg for the next 36 - 45 days before the baby “puffling” hatches.
  • A puffin raises one chick at a time and feeds it 5-8 times daily. 
  • Puffin chicks leave a colony when they fledge and head off to the ocean without their parents. They return to land when they are 2-3 years old. 
  • A puffin’s beak changes colour during the year.
  • A puffin weights around 500 grams (a bit heavier than a can of beans)
  • Puffins live for around 20 years. 



If you have any queries or would like to leave a comment, please drop as an e-mail.  We are always happy to hear from you.


Nerealūs kadrai!!!
They are similar to penguins..Love this bird's...:)
Great photos, from a clearly enjoyable journey!
george lewis(non-registered)
Most enjoyable!
Lovely field work!
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