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Birds

Some of the most impressive displays in nature are the work of masses of migrating birds gathering together before their epic journeys north and south. But not all birds are fair weather visitors, throughout the year visitors can see a myriad of impressive plumes or hear the dramatic or sometimes exotic calls of Scottish wild birds.

Coastal regions in the Argyll area of the park are home to sea birds, while the moorlands of the Trossachs host some of our most precious and dramatic ground nesting fowl. Read on to find out what visitors should be watching and listening for.

Black grouse

Black grouse © SNH

Why is it special?

The Black Grouse is a key indicator of a healthy natural habitat. The dramatic appearance of the male comes into force during a “lek” or mating ritual where the males will compete for the attention of the females.

When to see

All year round but most dramatic during lekking in April and May.

Where to see

The Great Trossachs Forest, moorland around the edges of woodland..

Best conditions and time of day

Very early morning in April and May.

How to recognise

During a lek you will hear the distinctive call of the males before you see them preening and displaying.

Difficulty rating

Difficult.

How to support visitors to see it

Find out if you have a lekking site near you and seek advice from local National Park Rangers about how to arrange a trip out to see them.

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Dipper

Dipper © SNH

Why is it special?

This small stocky bird with white throat and breast is capable of walking into and under water in search of small fish and aquatic insects on which it feeds.

When to see

All year round.

Where to see

Any medium sized stream or river, sitting on rocks.

Best conditions and time of day

Daylight hours.

How to recognise

The Dipper takes its name from its distinctive bobbing head movement followed by a quick “dip” under water to catch its prey.

Difficulty rating

Difficult.

How to support visitors to see it

If you have a little stream nearby where dippers frequent, take a moment to let visitors know they are there and encourage quiet observation. They can be quite entertaining to watch!

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Eider duck

Eider ducks © SNH

Why is it special?

This is the UK’s heaviest duck and its fastest flying. It is rarely found away from coasts where its dependence on coastal molluscs for food. They can be seen riding the swell in a sandy bay or strung out in long lines out beyond the breaking waves.

When to see

All year round.

Where to see

Ardgartan & Holy Loch, loafing around on the shore.

Best conditions and time of day

Daylight hours.

How to recognise

Males are striking in their black and white plumage and green patch on their neck. They are perhaps most notable for their size, with a wingspan of almost 1 metre.

Difficulty rating

Medium.

How to support visitors to see it

Although ducks are common in the Park, the eider is one worth drawing attention to.

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Goose (pink-footed and Greenland white-fronted)

Geese © SNH

Why is it special?

Pink footed – This is a medium-sized goose, smaller than a mute swan but bigger than a mallard. It is pinkish grey with a dark head and neck, a pink bill and pink feet and legs. This species does not breed in the UK, but large numbers of birds spend the winter here, arriving from their breeding grounds in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland.

Greenland white fronted – This is a grey goose, bigger than a mallard and smaller than a mute swan. Adults have a large white patch at the front of the head around the beak and bold black bars on the belly. Greenland birds have orange bills. This species does not breed in the UK.

When to see

October – March.

Where to see

RSPB Loch Lomond, feeding on grassland or bobbing around on the loch.

Best conditions and time of day

A winter visitor to the National Park, geese can be seen feeding in fields and grassland in large flocks and on migratory journeys in an easily identifiable V shaped formation. You will often hear geese flying overhead before you see them. Dawn and dusk are good times to see geese.

How to recognise

The white fronted is easily recognised by the flash of white on its face. The pink footed goose is, unsurprisingly, identified by its pink feet and legs (and beak)!

Difficulty rating

Easy/Medium.

How to support visitors to see it

To help visitors understand the importance of our landscape for migratory birds like these geese, consider recommended they visit the RSPB reserve at Loch Lomond to see them and learn more.

Further information & advice

Migratory winter species like geese help to increase activity options for visitors in the off-season.

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Swan

Mute swans © SNH

Whooper swan

Why is it special?

The whooper swan is a large white swan. It has a long thin neck, which it usually holds erect, and black legs. Its black bill has a large triangular patch of yellow on it.

It is mainly a winter visitor to the UK from Iceland.

When to see

November –  during winter migration.

Where to see

Loch Dochart & Loch Lomond on the open water.

Best conditions and time of day

Daylight.

How to recognise

Yellow bill and distinctive whooping sound during take off.

Difficulty rating

Medium.

How to support visitors to see it

Letting visitors know when the whoopers are here is a great first step, challenge them to find a whooper swan as opposed to the more common mute swan while they are out and about.

Mute swan

Why is it special?

It has a long S-shaped neck and an orange bill with a black base and a black knob. It flies with its neck extended and regular, slow wingbeats.

Some birds stay in their territories all year, while others move short distances and form winter flocks. In cold weather, some birds arrive from Europe.

When to see

All year round.

Where to see

Loch Lomond.

Best conditions and time of day

Daylight.

How to recognise

Orange beak.

Difficulty rating

Easy.

How to support visitors to see it

It is very straight forward to see mute swans in the Park, particularly around Loch Lomond.

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Woodpecker (great spotted and green)

Woodpecker

Why is it special?

Great Spotted – Striking black-and-white bird about the size of a blackbird. The male has a distinctive red patch on the back of the head and young birds have a red crown. Listen out for their “drumming” sounds.

Green – It has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill. It is green on its upperparts with a paler belly, bright yellow rump and red on the top of its head. Males have a red centre in the black ‘moustache’. Green woodpeckers spend most of their time feeding on the ground, short grass provides good feeding opportunities for them. Like other woodpeckers, these birds breed in holes they peck in dead wood.

When to hear

Late winter to early spring.

Where to hear

Any woodland in the National Park.

Best conditions and time of day

You are more likely to hear a woodpecker than see one. Listen out for the distinctive drumming noise as they create holes for their nests in late winter/early spring.

How to recognise

Both are dramatic in appearance. The greater spotted is black and white with a distinctive red flash, while the green is a rich emerald coloured bird.

Difficulty rating

Medium (easy to hear them, harder to see them).

How to support visitors to hear it

Remind them to listen out for the drumming noise on woodland walks.

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Gannet

Gannets © SNH

Why is it special?

Gannets will travel up to the sea lochs around Argyll from their nests at Ailsa Craig to fish. Look out for them wheeling and diving at up to 60 miles per hour.

When to see

All year round.

Where to see

Sea lochs around Argyll – Holy Loch and Ardgartan.

Best conditions and time of day

Clear days.

How to recognise

A white bird with black wingtips, yellow marking on the head and long pointed beak.

Difficulty rating

Medium.

How to support visitors to see it

Binoculars come in handy when trying to spot sea birds.

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