Highlands & Islands

Wind-blown little auk numbers unprecedented, says RSPB Scotland

Little auk Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Little auks breed in the Arctic and winter in the North Sea off Scandinavia

The numbers of wind-blown little auks appearing in Scotland have been "unprecedented", a bird conservation charity has suggested.

Thousands of the small seabirds have been driven from wintering grounds off Scandinavia by stormy easterly winds.

RSPB Scotland said the event was on a "massive scale" and auks have appeared as far inland as Lentran near Beauly.

While large numbers of birds have survived the ordeal, others have been found dead including at Rosemarkie.

The birds discovered at Rosemarkie in the Black Isle were thought to have tried to find shelter among large clumps of seaweed on the beach.

Stuart Benn, of RSPB Scotland, said many of the birds were finding shelter in the Moray Firth.

He said: "What is going on is on a massive scale. I've never known anything quite like it.

"To get this number of birds so close inshore is unprecedented."

Image copyright Scottish SSPCA
Image caption Dozens of the small seabirds have been rescued by the SSPCA

Another ornithological organisation, Rare Bird Alert, has been recording sightings of little auks at other locations in Scotland and the rest of the UK, including Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Fife.

The birds winter in the North Sea off Denmark and also off the coast of Sweden, feeding on plankton.

They breed in colonies numbering hundreds of thousands of birds in the Arctic, including on Svalbard and Spitsbergen.

Mr Benn said the wind-blown little auks should eventually find their way back to their usual territories once the weather calms down.

Dozens of the seabirds have been rescued. The Scottish SPCA said it was caring for more than 100 of the auks at its National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross.

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