Birds of the Flow Country

29/02/2024 2:51pm
Wader golden plover

Spring and Summer is the perfect time to discover the array of bird species found here on the bog as they return to pair up and breed. The Flow Country hosts an unparalleled bird assemblage in terms of variety and abundance of species compared with other blanket bogs around the world. From gliding Hen Harriers, shy Golden Plovers and wailing Red-throated Divers, here we’ll learn about why these birds call the blanket bog in the North of Scotland their home.


You’ve possibly already heard about the diverse breeding waders of the Flow Country. The open peatland landscape provides the ideal habitat for Golden Plover, Dunlin and Greenshank, all of which are found breeding here in relatively high densities. Dunlin, as their name “Dun” meaning hill in Gaelic and “Linne” meaning pool or pond suggests, are found amongst the small ponds of pool systems, whilst Golden Plover often reveal themselves calling atop mossy hummocks.


 Wader golden plover


Have you ever been deceived by a wader such as golden plovers (pictured above)? They can be found to feign injury such as a broken wing to distract potential predators from nest sites. Credit: RSPB




Dunlindunlin (pictured here) and Golden Plover can often be found alongside each other, an association which has earned Dunlin the nickname of ‘Plover’s page’. Credit: RSPB



 greenshank chick

The chicks of Greenshank (pictured above) and other waders are extremely well camouflaged in amongst the peatland vegetation. Credit: RSPB


Ducks such as the Common Scoter breed in the upland lochs of Caithness and Sutherland. These dark ducks were once widespread in the UK but now exist here at the very edge of their range. We carry out annual surveys to help us understand the ecology of the species and develop conservation measures to help them. Red-throated and Black-throated Divers also breed on these inland lochs. Black-throats, with their beautiful black and white markings, can be found sitting low in the water and diving with ease in lochs and along the coastline.



 black throated diver

Black-throated Diver nests are often vulnerable to fluctuations in water levels, floating nest platforms are used in the Flow Country to improve their breeding success. Credit: Andy Hay



 black throated diver legs

Divers’ legs are set far to the rear of their bodies, meaning they are excellent swimmers underwater but incredibly clumsy on land. Credit: Andy Hay


In the open skies above the bog, raptors roam. Hen Harriers are perhaps the most iconic, the characteristic grey body and black wing tips of the males make them easily recognisable. Find them skydancing above their territories in the sheltered straths of the Flow Country and making food passes over nests. Look out for other raptors such as Golden Eagle, Merlin or Short-Eared Owl. 



 hen harrier

 Skylarks and Meadow Pipits are the main diet of Hen Harriers (pictured here). Credit: Andy Hay


The sheer expanse and quality of the blanket bog in the Flow Country means that there is a diversity of habitats which can in turn, support a wide range of wetland and moorland bird species. With this in mind, you can see why this incredible assemblage of species contributes to the outstanding international importance of the Flow Country and makes it a worthwhile bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.

 common scoter

Common Scoter are found towards the Southern end of their range in the Flow Country. Credit: Andy Hay