Bird Surveys in Scotland

Advancing our understanding of Scotland’s birds through surveys and research is one of the principal aims of the SOC. Club members participate in a wide range of survey work across Scotland, whether they be local studies instigated by our own branches or national studies coordinated by other organisations. An increasing number of branches are organising local breeding bird atlases, and the publication of these represents a milestone in our understanding of Scotland’s bird community.

The Local Recorders’ Network should perhaps be considered as the largest research project undertaken by SOC members. Local bird reports (and the SBR) aim to document bird populations using records submitted by individuals and research projects. With increasing cooperation between fieldworkers, local bird reports are becoming a primary source of bird information in Scotland.

SOC Research Grants, administered by the Club’s Research and Surveys Committee, are available to members or branches and aim to encourage and support amateur research in Scotland. 

Many research projects undertaken by SOC members, as well as other ornithological work undertaken in Scotland, are written up in the Club’s journal Scottish Birds. The results of other projects, especially those organised locally, are typically published in local bird reports.

The following surveys are known to have been carried out in Scotland in recent years. They are divided into local and national surveys. Where the organising body is not the SOC or local SOC branch, this is indicated. Contact names are given wherever possible.

Local Surveys, by Recording Area

  • Little & Arctic Tern Studies, Tiree.
  • Breeding Birds Survey (BBS). In 1998, 16 squares were surveyed in Argyll. Also two CBS sites at Taynish NNR.
  • Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) study of seabird breeding success – JCA Craik. As part of a wider study of seabird breeding success, selected species are monitored annually in a study area along the west coasts of Kintyre, Mid-Argyll and North Argyll (including Lismore), and at additional sites in Loch Fyne (Cowal/Mid-Argyll) and Mull.
  • Systematic sea-watching at Machrihanish SBO (Kintyre) – EJ Maguire.
  • European Non-Estuarine Coastal Waterfowl Survey (NEWS) took place in Dec 1997/Jan 1998 and several coastal areas of Argyll were covered.
  • Garden Bird Survey (BTO) carried out at four or more sites in Argyll.
  • Constant Effort Ringing Site (CES) at Aros Moss, Kintyre – N Brown (1999).
  • Argyll Raptor Study Group. Surveys of raptor breeding success.
  • Many other one-off surveys take place on a year-to-year basis.
  • WeBS counts. Local organiser Dave Grant, 16 Thorn Avenue, Coylton, Ayr KA6 6NL.
  • Ayrshire Breeding Birds Atlas Survey. Fieldwork organisers Angus Hogg, Andrew Stevenson, Peter McEwan and Bill McKechnie.
  • Ayrshire Rookery Survey. Authors Dr Roger Hissett, The White House, Monktonhill, by Prestwick KA9 1UJ, and the late Dr ME Castle.
  • Ayrshire Winter Cormorant Roosts Survey (WWT survey). Local organiser Angus Hogg.
  • Winter Twite Habitat Survey (Clark and Sellers Scottish Survey). Local organiser Angus Hogg.
  • Much of other fieldwork is covered by groups such as South-west Scotland Raptor Study Group.
  • South-East Scotland Bird Atlas
  • The Manor Valley Survey – This is a 13-year project (2000-2012) conducted by Graham Pyatt of Borders SOC. The area covered is the catchment of the Manor Water, extended in the north-east corner to include Cademuir Hill as far as Tweed Bridge in Peebles. By 2006, Graham had accumulated well over 20,000 bird records and there are now 40,000 bird records (2013). The survey is of amateur but reasonably scientific status, based on targetted walks rather than statistical sampling. The aim is to record all bird and mammal species present (plus ‘interesting’ plants), with approximate counts. During the breeding season, particular emphasis is placed on waders, raptors, Ring Ouzels, and Dippers.  In 2007, Graham published a paper on the results (to date) of the survey as ‘Seasonal and altitudinal distribution of birds in a Scottish Borders valley’, Scottish Birds (2007) Vol 27, 15-23. Although writing up is now in progress, any sightings of rare birds, as per the following list, are still required:

– Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye.

– Red Kite, Goshawk, Grey Partridge.

– Water Rail, Coot, Dotterel, Dunlin, Jack Snipe, Stock Pigeon.

– Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Nightjar, Tree Pipit.

– Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat, Wood Warbler, Chiffchaff.

– Pied Flycatcher, Marsh Tit, Jay, Tree Sparrow, Twite, Hawfinch, Snow Bunting, Yellowhammer.

Records should be emailed to Graham at or sent to: Dr DG Pyatt, The Schoolhouse, Manor, Peebles, EH45 9JN.

  • Grey Heron (2000) – all records during the breeding season (casual records as well as Heronries census work) - Alex Copland.
  • Tetrad breeding bird atlas (with Lothian) – published in 1998.
  • Goosander winter count.
  • Low tide rocky shore count (every Jan/Feb, with Lothian).
  • Peeblesshire rookery census.
  • Water Rail census.
  • Sand Martin survey.
  • Mute Swan census.
  • Tree Sparrow sample survey.
  • Buzzard monitoring scheme.
  • Merlin RSG study.
  • Goshawk monitoring scheme.
  • Peregrine monitoring scheme.
  • Population levels of Ring Ouzel and Black Grouse (professional).
  • Population monitoring of seabird numbers at St.Abbs Head NNR (professional).
  • Jack Snipe Geolocator project.
  • Wetland Bird Survey (inland and estuary) all year. Val Wilson, 76 Laigh Road, Newton Mearns G77 5EQ; 0141 639 2516.
  • SOC Breeding Waterbirds Survey (annual): Val Wilson.
  • Heronries Census (annual with BTO): Alan Wood, 21 Union St, Greenock, Renfrewshire PA16 8DD; 01475 727122.
  • Breeding Ruddy Duck (annual monitoring of breeding population and productivity): Iain Gibson, 8 Kenmure View, Howwood, Renfrewshire PA9 1DR; 01505 705874.
  • Renfrewshire Breeding Hen Harrier Survey (annual with RSG): Iain Gibson.
  • Monitoring of breeding Raven and Peregrine (annual with RSG): Iain Gibson et al.
  • Renfrewshire Breeding Black Guillemot Survey (annual in April): Alan Wood.
  • Breeding Lesser Whitethroat Survey: Tom Byars.
  • Willow Tit nest-box and ringing scheme (with Clyde Ringing Group). This Project arose due to concerns about the depleted numbers of this species. Through this scheme it is hoped to find reasons for their decline and possibly help the situation through the use of specialised nest-boxes, 140 of which are now located in suitable areas. A ringing scheme using colour-codes is helping to chart the movements of the birds, especially dispersal from the natal area. The Project has attracted some funding from BTO and SNH and also much survey and monitoring help from various individuals. The species has been included for priority action in North Lanarkshire’s LBAP (Local Biodiversity Action Plan). Any information/ sightings will be welcomed. Jimmy Maxwell, 7 Lilac Hill, Hamilton ML3 7HG, 01698 426476.
  • Eider post-moult census on the Inner Firth of Clyde (annual in September): Chris Waltho, 73 Stewart St, Carluke, ML8 5BY, 01555 750719. Click to download:
  • Capercaillie Census of the Loch Lomond Islands (annual in March with SNH): Chris Waltho.
  • Mute Swan moult flocks (annual in July): Alan Wood.
  • Monitoring of Black Cart Water Special Protection Area Whooper Swans (with WWT to 2001, then annual with Scottish Greenbelt Company): George White, 107 Hollows Ave, Paisley, Renfrewshire PA2 0RD; 01505 351155.
  • Manx Shearwater Counts at Cloch Point (annual summer-autumn): Iain Gibson.
  • Diver and Grebe Counts at Ardmore Point (annual throughout year): Iain Gibson.
  • Other surveys which are ongoing, but not always on an annual basis include: Breeding Waders Survey, Rookeries Census, Breeding Water Rail Survey, Gull Roost and Magpie Roost surveys, also breeding Buzzard, Kingfisher, Sand Martin, Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting. Some of these are associated with SOC Clyde Branch involvement with Local Biodiversity Action Plans.
  • Swifts in Glasgow – Clare Darlaston.
Clyde Islands
  • Wildfowl/WeBS counts on Bute and Great Cumbrae over the winter months.
Dumfries & Galloway
  • WEBS organisers
    • Loch Ryan – Geoff Sheppard (supplimentary counts by PN Collin).
    • Wigtown Bay – PN Collin.
    • Inner Solway – Andy Riches.
    • Other inland lochs (Auchenreoch, Milton, Insh) – Andy Riches.
  • Seabird 2000 organisers
    • Stewartry – Dave Fairlamb, Mersehead RSPB.
    • Wigtownshire – coastal coverage by PN Collin.
  • BBS/Bird Atlas survey organisers
    • Dumfries – Edmund Fellowes.
    • Stewartry – Andrew Bielinski.
    • Wigtownshire – Geoff Sheppard.
  • Raptor Study Group chairman – Chris Rollie.
  • Barn Owl Study Group – Chris Rollie, RSPB.
  • Black Grouse co-ordinator – RSPB Office, Crossmichael, Castle Douglas.
  • Breeding terns – Paul N Collin.
  • Mull of Galloway & Scar Rocks – RSPB.
  • Other national surveys usually organised by RSPB Chris Rollie or BTO reps.
  • North Solway Ringing Group – contact John Skilling (Secretary) and Geoff Sheppard (Ringing Secretary).
East coast
  • Breeding terns – co-ordinated by East of Scotland Tern Conservation Group. Contact Peter R Gordon.
Fair Isle
  • Continuous, intensive monitoring of seabird breeding populations.
  • Beached bird surveys.
  • Annual Grey Seal pup count.
  • The Fife tetrad atlas which was published in 2016. See here for further details.
  • BTO Breeding Bird Survey. A total of 59 squares were surveyed in 2019 in Fife. Volunteers are needed for the 2021 season.
  • Corn Bunting Survey. An annual survey monitoring one of the last strongholds of Corn Buntings in Scotland, if not the UK. Contact Will Cresswell for details.
  • Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS). Volunteers needed for the Forth and Tay estuaries and inland waters.
  • Forth island breeding bird counts (annual) – Forth Seabird Group.
  • Common Sandpiper Studies.
  • Breeding Greenshank Studies.
  • South-East Scotland Bird Atlas: see website here.
  • East Lothian Goose and Swan Survey (annual from 2010-11)
  • Edinburgh Swift Survey, 2005-2006: Andrew Sandeman has published the results of this two-year survey of the city’s Swift population. 
  • Ringed Plover survey 2002.
  • Yellow Wagtail survey 2002.
  • Tetrad breeding bird atlas (with Borders) – published in 1998.
  • Tree Sparrow breeding survey (1998/99) – Mark Holling.
  • Tree Sparrow colour-ringing scheme at Hallyards, Kirkliston from 2000 (colours used will be red, orange, yellow, light blue, dark green, white and mauve).
  • Low tide rocky shore count (every Jan/Feb, with Borders).
  • Merlin study – Alan Heavisides.
  • Buzzard monitoring – George Smith.
  • Peregrine monitoring.
  • WeBS organisers
    • coastal – Duncan Priddle (from Jan 2001).
    • inland – Joan Wilcox.
  • Forth island breeding bird counts (annual) – Forth Seabird Group.
  • Survey of breeding birds at Musselburgh lagoons and Morrison’s Haven, 1999-2000 – I.J. Andrews, C.N. Davison and B.A. Hickman.
Moray and Nairn
  • Corn Bunting.
North-east Scotland
  • Freshwater use by Long-tailed Ducks in Orkney.
  • Sanday Sanderling.
  • Sanday Shorebird Count.
  • Rousay Skua Project.
Outer Hebrides
  • Breeding terns/gulls in Lewis/Harris in 1999 – commissioned by MESH (Mink Eradication Scheme Hebrides) – Dr S Rae.
  • Hedgehogs and predation of wader nests – Dr DB Jackson.
Perth and Kinross
  • The Kinross tetrad atlas. Data are in the process of being mapped, eventually to be uploaded on to a CD. Contact Norman Elkins for details.
  • Black Grouse survey (since 1990).
  • Seabird 2000 (all inland colonies).
  • Water Rail Study.
Upper Forth
  • Breeding Honey Buzzards in Central Scotland.
    Kestrels and Swifts in the Falkirk Local Authority area – SOC in cooperation with Falkirk Area Local Biodiversity Partnership. Details from Angus Smith, 9 Braehead Grove, Bo’ness EH51 0EG.
  • Bullfinches in Clackmannanshire – breeding records as well as sightings (date, location, grid reference, sex, number). The survey is carried out in connection with the Local Biological Records Centre. Details from Andre Thiel, c/o CARSE, Smith Museum Art Gallery, Dumbarton Road, Stirling, FK8 2RQ.
  • Buzzard monitoring in Falkirk District. This species is now being monitored by Angus Maciver in conjunction with the (CSRSG). Any assistance in identifying territories will be most welcome.


Projects supported by SOC Endowment Fund

  • Shillay Storm Petrels: Shiants Auk Ringing Group.
  • Island Wren song: Michal Jezierski.
  • East Renfrewshire Tree Sparrows: Kevin Sinclair.
  • Nightjar survey: SOC Borders Branch.
  • Quandale Skua study, Rousay, Orkney: Helen and David Aiton.
  • Green and Wood Sandpipers: Brian Etheridge & Ron Summers.
  • Seabirds on the Treshnish islands: Treshnish Auk Ringing Group. 
  • Mute Swan population monitoring and ringing: Allan and Lyndesay Brown, Lothians and Fife Swan Study Group
  • Late Spring Seaducks in the Moray Firth.
  • Manx Shearwater studies on Rum: Andrew Ramsay.
  • Sule Skerry seabird surveys: D Budworth.
  • Icelandic Greylag Goose migrations (all Scotland): Bob Swann.
  • Urban Oystercatchers in Aberdeen: Alistair Duncan and Raymond Duncan. 
  • Ring Ouzel breeding ecology, Braemar: Innes Sim et al. 
  • Twite breeding ecology, Glen Clunie: Andy Thorpe and Raymond Duncan. 
  • Tiree Tern tracking: Hayley Douglas.
  • Honey Buzzards: Ken Shaw.
  • Water Rail breeding on the Tay: Derek Robertson.
  • Waders on Sanday, Orkney: Ron Summers and Colin Corse.
  • Orkney Long-tailed Ducks: David Patterson.
  • Jack Snipe geo-locators: Iain Livingstone.
  • Kestrels: Gordon Riddle.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull ringing: Hayley Douglas.
  • Shag colour-ringing, Forth Islands: Alan Leitch.
  • Manx Shearwater breeding, Isle of May: David Thorne.
  • Guillemots and Fulmars on Sula Sgeir: Stuart Murray.
  • Common Sandpipers, Sutherland: Ron Summers.
  • Nighjar monitoring in NE Scotland: Alan Knox.
  • Colour-ringing Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Inchcolm, Fife: John Davies.
  • Oystercatcher & Lapwing breeding, Glen Clova: Bruce Lynch.
  • Wintering Twite, Uist & Benbecula: Stephen Duffield.


National Surveys

  • Volunteer Seabirds At Sea (VSAS): Organised and funded by JNCC. See their website for details.
  • 2007-11 Bird Atlas: Contact Bob Swann. See the Bird Atlas website for more information.
  • European Breeding Bird Atlas 2:
  • Concern for Swifts (Scotland): Contact Clare Darlaston. Website Concern for Swifts.
  • WeBS counts (inland and coastal): Organised and funded by BTO, WWT, RSPB and JNCC. Contact local organisers or the BTO WeBS Office.
  • Low tide wader counts: Organised by BTO. Contact BTO WeBS Office.
  • National grey goose census: Organised by WWT. Contact local organisers or Richard Hearn (WWT).
  • Breeding raptors: Organised by the Scottish Raptor Study Groups.
  • Seabird Colony Register and Seabird 2000: Coordinated by JNCC. Contact Dr Ian Mitchell for Seabird 2000, or Kate Thompson for the SCR.
  • Breeding Bird Survey (BBS): Organised by BTO. Contact BTO Regional Reps or the BBS National Organiser.
  • Rare Breeding Birds: Co-ordinated by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP). Contact the Local Recorder, or the RBBP Secretary.
  • Annual Heronries Survey: Organised by BTO. Contact BTO Regional Reps.
  • Other BTO surveys: Contact BTO via Regional Reps.
  • Arrival Dates of Summer Migrants: table of arrival dates for 34 migrant species, compiled annually by Birdline Scotland.
  • Scottish-based colour-ringing schemes: N.B. The following list is not comprehensive.
    • Shag.
    • Mute Swan.
    • Pink-footed Goose.
    • Greylag Goose – Bob Swann.
    • Hen Harrier (wing-tags).
    • Red Kite (wing-tags).
    • Oystercatcher – Alistair Duncan.
    • Blackcap – Gullane.
    • Snow Bunting.

If you find a bird ring, contact the BTO Ringing Office.


  • The Seabird Group: Training grants to use towards travel, accommodation and subsistence in order to undertake an unpaid voluntary activity focussing on seabirds. More information is available on their website.