Birdwatchers asked to keep a look out for the UK’s rarest seabird

Jenny Tweedie

Friday 30 June 2017

RSPB Scotland is asking birdwatchers to keep an eye out for roseate terns in the Firth of Forth this summer.

Roseate terns, which are the UK's rarest breeding seabird, were driven almost to extinction in the 19th century by the demand for their beautiful tail feathers, which were used in the manufacture of ladies' hats.

The only colony left in the UK is Coquet Island in Northumberland, which currently has around 100 nesting pairs. The Forth Islands used to be their main breeding area in Scotland, but due to a fall in their numbers, they're now only occasional visitors.

RSPB Scotland's Chris Knowles, who has been appointed as the new tern warden for the area, said: "There are three species of tern currently breeding in the Firth of Forth: common, Arctic and Sandwich. Roseate terns like to breed amongst colonies of these more aggressive birds, but they haven't nested successfully in the Forth area since 2009.

"Part of my job in the Forth is to help support the colonies of other terns from threats such as disturbance, in the hope that the roseate tern may one day return and nest in the area once more."

Roseate terns are small, elegant birds, with pale plumage, a slight pink blush and stunning tail streamers. They're most commonly seen fishing, which they do by plummeting into the sea from a height of about 10 metres.

The terns in the Forth are the subject of ongoing conservation work delivered by the RSPB, in collaboration with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which is being funded by the Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery project ( to stop the terns being lost from our coast and islands.

Any sightings and photographs of the terns should be sent to:

Pictures of puffins are also being sought this summer, in an attempt to find out what the birds are feeding their chicks. Photographs of puffins carrying fish can be uploaded directly to

Both terns and puffins are likely to be the stars during an RSPB Scotland-led boat trip in the Firth of Forth this Sunday (July 2), in partnership with Maid of the Forth. The cruise runs from South Queensferry at 6pm, and will provide lots of opportunities to see gannets, eider ducks, and other marine wildlife such as seals and even dolphins. For more information, visit:

The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Topic: Safeguard our sealife