A record breaking 2,270 black-tailed godwits have arrived on the Isle of Tiree this spring, the highest number thought to have ever been counted in Scotland at one time.
These large wading birds often stop off in the Hebrides in April and May to refuel during their long migration to Iceland, where they breed.
The Isle of Tiree typically only sees a few hundred godwits, in their brick-red finery, dropping in to feed around the well-grazed loch edges and wet grasslands. The previous record was 1,320 birds back in 2013.
The new record, set in April 2017, almost doubles that, representing some 5% of the entire Icelandic breeding population. One of the flocks was spotted on an RSPB Scotland reserve, but the largest was recorded in a tiny field at Kilmoluaig, totalling 1,750 birds.
At least 20 black-tailed godwits were seen with coloured rings around their legs, revealing that they had spent the winter in a range of diverse sites from France and Portugal to England and Spain.
Research organisations, such as the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), ‘ring’ birds by attaching tiny, individually numbered bands around one of their legs. These coloured tags allow birds to be identified, so scientists can track their movements and life history.
John Bowler, Tiree Officer for RSPB Scotland, said: “Black-tailed godwits are known to stop off here for food on their way to Iceland, particularly when adverse northerly winds hamper their progress across the North Atlantic. So, with huge numbers of golden plover already noted on Tiree during pretty windy conditions, it wasn’t a huge surprise when black-tailed godwits started turning up too. However, to see flocks of this size is just incredible. Hopefully they will enjoy a good breeding season this year and I’m already looking forward to seeing them pass back through Tiree in the autumn.”