Record numbers of godwits arrive on Tiree


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 Inner Hebrides, Argyll, in April and May to refuel during their long migration to Iceland, where they breed.

Tiree typically only sees a few hundred godwits in their brick-red breeding 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 per cent of the entire Icelandic breeding population. One of the flocks was spotted on an RSPB Scotland reserve, but the largest – totalling 1,750 birds – was recorded in a tiny field at Kilmoluaig.

Black-tailed Godwit
Up to five per cent of the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit population – a distinct endemic breeding subspecies – has been on Tiree this spring (Photo: Dave Williams)

At least 20 individuals were seen with coloured rings on their legs, which revealed that they had spent the winter in a range of diverse regions from France and Portugal to England and Spain.

Research organisations, such as the British Trust for Ornithology, ring birds by attaching tiny, individually numbered bands around one of their legs. These coloured tags allow birds to be identified, so that scientists can track their movements and life history.

Part of one of the large Black-tailed Godwit flocks on Tiree recently (John Bowler).

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 European 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.”

Written by: RSPB