Puffins in Scotland: where and when to see the colourful sea birds

Puffins are Scotland's most sought-after seabird due to their strikingly coloured beak, trademark waddling gait and unique behaviour - and spotting them in Scotland is easier than you might think.

Puffins make their home in Scotland during the Summer months (Photo: Shutterstock)
Puffins make their home in Scotland during the Summer months (Photo: Shutterstock)

The puffins annually migrate to Scotland, settling all over the country's rugged coastline from North Berwick in the Southeast to Handa off the coast of Sutherland.

Tracking them down involves being in the right place at the right time.

When is the best time to see puffins?

Known affectionately by some Scot as the 'clowns of the sea', puffins typically arrive in Scotland in late March or early April.

They make Scotland their home for the spring and summer months before retreating in mid-August.

Where can I see puffins?

Isle of May and Craigleith Island

Remarkably one of the best spots to spy the winged creatures is in the Firth of Forth to the north of Edinburgh.

The Isle of May is a sanctuary for many seabirds including puffins during the Summer months as is the island of Craigleith, both of which can be visited from the Seabird Centre on North Berwick


Nestled in the Treshnish Isles to the west of the Isle of Mull, Lunga is also a haven for the clowns of the sea.

The bird nestle on a large rock just off the island which can be used as a vantage point to spy the colourful birds.


Birdwatchers of the north east also stand a good chance of spotting the squawking auks if they visit Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve, a series of cliffs packed with 130,000 seabirds during the Summer months.

Though dominated by guillemots, binocular-wielding birdwatchers also stand a good chance of spotting puffins at the stunningly located nature reserve.

Handa Island

Located off the coast of remote Sutherland, Handa Island feels a million miles away from civilisation - in fact you've more chance of spotting an auk than another human being during a visit to the stranded isle.

A ferry service runs from Tarbet during the Summer months, typically packed with birdwatchers keen on getting up close and personal with the island's curious puffin population.

Sumburgh Head, Shetland

The scattering of islands which make up Shetland are home to a number of puffin colonies, but perhaps the easiest to access is the site at Sumburgh Head.

Several thousand puffins make their living off the cliffs near the islands' main airport, fishing, playing and squabbling in viewing distance of enthusiastic bird watchers.