Birds of St. Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve

Birds of St Abb's Head

Travelling through the Scottish Borders for your holiday is a real treat, especially if you’re an avid birder. St. Abbs Head bird sightings are one of the best places to see Scotland’s diverse birdlife, with prominent and rare seabirds migrating from all over the world to visit the offshore stacks.

St. Abbs Head’s name comes from the exposed rocky headland with daunting cliffs and towering stacks. It is a beautiful location to stop by for birdwatching and a nature walk along the Scottish coast. But birdwatching is one of the foremost reasons to stop by St. Abbs Head, as breeding seabirds love flocking and building nests along the cliffs of this prominent nature reserve.


The coastline isn’t what first comes to tourists’ minds when thinking about the Scottish Borders, but it absolutely should be! St Abbs Head sits near the southern border of Scotland and England, about half an hour from Berwick-upon-Tweed and just over an hour from Edinburgh.

St. Abbs Head is a national nature reserve managed jointly by the National Trust for Scotland & the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The nature reserve covers about 200 acres of grassland along the coast and includes an artificial freshwater loch (Loch Mire) and woodland — the perfect places for birdwatching.

During summer, the population of seabirds balloons to about 60,000 – a fact you can hear before you even lay eyes on any nests. There are multiple points to see the sea birds, from the lighthouse car park, the golf course in Eyemouth Harbour, and the nature trails that run through the reserve that leads you alongside the cliff.

Details to Know

St. Abbs Head is an accessible attraction to visit no matter what time of year you’re arriving, but here are some details you should know before you pack your bags and come to see the sea birds:

Walking boots are an absolute necessity when walking the St. Abbs Head Nature Reserve routes. The strong winds and the steep edge make it dangerous if you wander too close to the high cliffs (which no paths run past).

The Lighthouse Loop offers the chance to walk alongside the stacks and rocky cliffs that give the reserve its name, passing by the lighthouse. The best stop for birdwatching is at Black Gable, the lowest point the sheer cliffs dip just east of the lighthouse. This loop is about 5 kilometres and shows off the panoramic views of the North Sea.

The shorter Loch Loop takes you around the freshwater artificial Mire Loch. Although more straightforward, this loop offers no less opportunity to capture rare and wondrous bird life for photos. Migrant birds regularly nest in the trees and bushes of Mire Loch; ensure you’re not disturbing their homes.

When to Visit

The nesting season occurs during the summer months, and the bulk of breeding seabirds can be seen during this time. It can become quite busy during these months, so for birders who prefer to spot birds with a calmer atmosphere, coming in late June when most birds have left is ideal.

That said, no matter what time of year you arrive, there’ll be much birdlife to see!

How to Get There

Taking a detour from the A1 is the quickest and easiest to reach the town of St Abbs, which is only about 30 minutes from Berwick-upon-Tweed and an hour’s drive to reach it from Edinburgh.

From the town, driving up to St Abbs Head is relatively straightforward, with plenty of directions for visitors to follow along the way. The best place to park is Northfield Farm, with a visitor centre open between April – October. You can begin the walking loop of your choice from this car park.

Top Birds to Look Out For

Once you’ve packed your binoculars and bird guidebook, taking time to enjoy the stunning landscape is something we highly recommend you do as you do birdwatching. Here are some of the migrant and native species to look out for as you take in the natural features of the St. Abbs Head Nature Reserve.

Black Guillemots (Cepphus grylle)

Black Guillemot

One of the most permanent residents of the ‘Seabird City’ that St Abbs is known for, the Guillemot is a penguin-like bird known for its white fronts and black-brown backs. About 40,000 of these bird species are on St. Abbs Head, concentrated on the northern side of the lighthouse near the cliff edge.

Kittiwakes (Rissa)


The often noisy and stubborn kittiwakes are also readily seen throughout the nature reserve, especially during their breeding season in July. Their unique call is what gives them their name, and if you listen for the distinctive “Kiiti-waa-awake”, you’ll start hearing it wherever you go.

You can spot these birds easily; they have a small body with grey overparts with a black tip at the end of each wing. Their nests are easily seen near the cliff’s edge, usually in mud and rock.

Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus)

Herring Gulls

Herring Gulls are a common sight throughout the year, especially when they pair up to breed during summer. They aren’t as prevalent as guillemots but are often seen on the flatter rocks meeting with one another.

Their grey wings and back are their most identifiable features, with the iconic yellow beak setting them apart from other gulls.

Atlantic Puffins (Fratercula arctica)

Atlantic Puffins

The odd-looking Atlantic puffins are also prone to appear during spring, although in much fewer numbers than on the western coast of Scotland. Their multi-coloured beaks, penguin-like shape, and adorable eyes are one of the most recognisable breeds of birds that visitors can look forward to while visiting St Abbs Head.

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Northern Gannet

During late June/early July, it’s not uncommon to see flocks of Northern gannet fly past and rest temporarily at St Abbs Head. These diving birds are snowy white, white, the last third of their wings coloured black. Their rose gold heads are a refreshing splash of colour, making them easy to spot against the other seabirds that dot the coastline.

The Northern Gannet is also one of the largest seabirds flying through St Abbs and holds records as the largest gannet bird – nearly the size of an albatross!



Small terns, from common terns, sandwich terns, Arctic and even Black terns, can be spotted through the Autumn months (August – October).

Their most identifiable feature is the black spot that covers the tops of their head, their smaller size, and the red or yellow beak. Black terns are more uncommon than the other species of Terns mentioned but still have shown up in recent years.



Should you stick to the Mire Loch path instead of navigating the coastline, there are still plenty of birds that you can spot along the way! Warblers are everpresent in the woodlands and frequently can be heard chirping and warbling.

From wood warblers to barred warblers, you can spend an entire afternoon spotting these friendly and vocal birds.

Nearby Accommodation

St Abbs Head sits quite comfortably on the border between Scotland and England, meaning you have many great accommodation options when you visit. Places like Coldstream are just a stone’s throw away and offer fantastic accommodation, from bed and breakfasts to self-catering homes.

Otherwise, heading north out of the Scottish Borders takes you close to Edinburgh, where a wide range of hotels provides respite to weary travellers in the heart of Scotland.

Things to Do Nearby

The Scottish Borders are filled with amazing historical things to do alongside the birdwatching you can accomplish at St Abb’s Head. Coldstream has a beautiful history of being a town for runaway marriages, and there’s plenty to pick up and do while you’re there.

Head along the coast, and you’ll find North Berwick, which can offer passage to the Isle of May – another excellent bird-watching spot! Here are more suggestions for things to do.


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