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The Pembrokeshire Islands are very important nature reserves for a myriad of wildlife from birds to seals. Ramsey Island is an RSPB Nature Reserve and an important breeding site for rare birds such as the Chough and Peregrine Falcon. Skomer and Skokholm are home to over 40,000 puffins, and the Pembrokeshire Islands combined are home to the nesting site of over half the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters. Grassholm is also home to the UK’s third largest gannet colony. As well as other resident and visiting birds such as auks, these islands provide a truly memorable experience to witness these amazing birds in their natural habitats. 

Guillemots and Razorbills

Guillemots and razorbills are members of the Auk family. They breed in significant numbers on Ramsey Island, arriving in late March and leaving in mid-July.

Both species are related to a bird called a great auk which is now extinct. The great auk was considered to be the northern hemisphere's equivalent of a penguin, a consideration which is very apparent in the appearance of the guillemot and razorbill. Unlike a penguin, both the guillemot and razorbill are capable of flight, however, their wing spans are very small in comparison with the size of their bodies. This gives them a very inefficient high energy wing beat. Their wing size and shape render them far superior swimmers and divers than they are fliers, often diving to considerable depths.

Both birds only come to Ramsey to breed, choosing to spend the rest of the year on the surface of the water, where they feel much more comfortable. If approached, they will often dive and swim away from danger rather than taking off.

Razorbills are the smaller of the two. They are black and white in colour, identified by a blunt black beak. Razorbills tend to choose breeding sites on small ledges which are tucked away under overhangs or around cave entrances and as a result, tend to breed in smaller colonies. This provides them with some protection from larger predatory birds such as greater blackback gulls, peregrines and ravens.

Guillemots are larger, brown and white in colour and have a pointed beak. Guillemots breed on long narrow ledges preferably on sheer cliffs where they will cram as many birds as they can onto a ledge, in the hope that this strategy with prevent predatory birds with larger wing spans from landing. As a result, they tend to breed in much larger colonies.

Both birds have very similar breeding habits. Neither will build a nest, laying a single egg directly onto the rocky ledges. The adult birds will then incubate the egg on their feet taking the incubation and feeding of the chick in turn. As they feel much more vulnerable on land than on the water, the adult birds will leave when the chick is only about 2/3 the size of the adult bird and cannot fly properly.

The chick will have to jump off its ledge into the water and follow the male bird out to sea under the cover of darkness to avoid predation. Once out on the water, they are reasonably safe, because although they won’t be able to fly for a number of weeks they can both swim and dive well at this stage.



Puffins are also members of the auk family. Unlike the guillemot and razorbill, they do not breed on Ramsey Island but can be found on Skomer Island where there are over 42,000 breeding in large numbers. There is also a smaller, younger colony on the North Bishop Rock close to Ramsey Island. They arrive on the Pembrokeshire Islands during April and leave mid to late July, afterwards, they starburst out into the North Atlantic Ocean, where they will raft up on the water.

The puffin is easily recognisable, known as the ‘clowns of the sea’ with its brightly coloured beak and bright orange feet. Like its cousins, the puffin is a superior swimmer and diver than it is a flier. Unlike guillemots and razorbills which nest on cliff rock edges, the puffin will nest on land inside their burrows underground. For this reason, their breeding grounds are limited to those where land predators are not present.



Fulmars are members of the petrel family, hence a relative of the albatross. They have a long breeding season, from April to September rearing a single chick. They can often be seen in their pairs at the nest site brooding their egg or young chick but once the chick is older they will spend more time at sea feeding. These are relatively long-lived birds and the chick once it leaves the nest will remain at sea for around 5 years before returning to land to breed once fully mature.

Fulmars remain loyal to their nest site for most of the year. Over winter they will spend long periods out at sea but unlike other seabirds, will return to their nest site from time to time over the winter months.

They have several interesting features that allow them to stay out at sea for so long. One is a very economical, straight-winged gliding flight which enables them to cover great distances with very little effort. Another is the fact that they have twin nasal tubes on their beaks which are thought to act as a desalination plant enabling them to drink sea water. In addition, their feet are set far back on their bodies, ideally placed for taking off from the surface of the water.

Although very adept at landing and taking off from the water, the fulmar will find it very difficult to land on the cliffs where they have their nest sites. As a result, they have to choose very open accessible nest sites for ease of landing which would potentially leave them open to predation. However, the fulmar has developed a highly effective self-defence mechanism which takes the form of projectile vomiting their stomach contents at any predator that threatens them, unsurprisingly deterring the majority of predators. Their chicks also can do this, which means the adults can leave their chicks alone in the nest.



The gannet is the largest of the British seabirds and has an almost 6-foot wingspan. They nest on Grassholm island which hosts approx. 39,000 nesting pairs (10% of the world's population). They have a highly adapted hunting technique; they can spot their prey from up to 100 feet in the air and will dive from this height. They pull their wings right back into an arrow shape behind their body a split second before they hit the water at speeds of up to 60 mph. To protect themselves from the impact of the water they inflate air sacks in their head and body to absorb the shock. Circling gannets can often be a good indicator that there are cetaceans present, as they take advantage of fish being hunted and pushed near the water surface.



The kittiwake is the smallest British gull to breed on Ramsey. They choose nest sites around caves and in colonies for protection. They will usually lay three eggs but may not successfully rear three chicks. They are a species in decline around the islands and currently on the UK’s ‘red list’, this is likely to be a combination of climate change and food availability. The Kittiwake is named after its distinctive call and is the only cliff nesting seabird that makes a proper nest out of wet grasses, saliva and mud.


Manx Shearwater

The Manx Shearwater is the only seabird in this area that migrates to the southern hemisphere for the winter. They spend the winter off the coast of Argentina where there is a plentiful food supply. They are burrow nesters like the puffin and are very clumsy on land which makes them very vulnerable to predation. For this reason, they only make landfall under cover of darkness and spend their days far out at sea feeding, returning to the islands at night to feed their chick. 

During the peak of the breeding season around 30,000 birds an hour can be seen west of Ramsey heading to the islands as darkness falls. They will fly low over the water, wing tips shearing the surface of the waves, harnessing the ground effect for a highly efficient flight. It is from the method of their flight that the name ‘shearwater’ is derived. They can fly up to 50mph with scarcely a wing beat and easily travel millions of miles in the course of their life span. Over half the world’s population of Manx Shearwaters breed on Skomer, Skokholm and Ramsey. Which makes this a very special bird for Pembrokeshire.

Shags and Cormorants

Both Shags and Cormorants are a compromised sea bird as they have only partially waterproof feathers. As a result, their feathers are constantly absorbing sea water. The more water they absorb, the heavier they get and the deeper they can dive after fish. However, they have to take care not to become too waterlogged as they can risk drowning. They will often sit out of the water on top of the rocks to dry out their wings.



Oystercatchers are wading birds that can be found around Ramsey throughout the year. They are fiercely protective of young, often chasing off much larger predatory birds. Despite their name, they cannot feed on oysters unless feeding in an estuary as they can’t swim. Instead, they will feed between tide lines, picking mussels and limpets off of the rocks along the coast.


Peregrine Falcon

The Peregrine Falcon is nationally rare, with only 1,500 pairs breading UK-wide. On Ramsey, there are currently 2 breeding pairs. The peregrine is the world’s fastest living creature, reaching speeds of 242 mph (389kph) in its stoop after prey. They prey on other birds, such as pigeons. 



Kestrels can be identified by their distinctive hovering in the sky as they search for food.

They are a breeding bird on Ramsey and prey on voles or common lizards.



The Buzzard is the most common bird of prey in the UK and the largest bird of prey resident to Ramsey Island. One or two pairs breed on Ramsey and they can often be seen soaring over the island in search of prey.



The chough is a member of the corvid (crow) family with a distinctive red bill and red legs which gives them their Latin name ‘Pyrrhocorax Pyrrhocorax’ meaning fire raven. They are one of the rarest birds in the country at present, with only 300 breeding pairs in the whole of the UK. There are approx. 7 pairs that breed on Ramsey and the island are managed by the RSPB to provide good feeding conditions for this bird. 



These are also members of the corvid family and are identifiable by their very large size with a wing span of up to 1.5 meters. They are scavengers feeding on carion, insects, and rodents. They will also take seabirds' eggs off the cliffs in the summer given the opportunity.

They are incredibly acrobatic flyers and can be seen tumbling in the sky especially when displaying at the start of the breeding season.

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