Satellite tags reveal tiny Shetland birds’ journeys

BRITAIN’S smallest seabird spends more time around the coast of Shetland than was previously known, according to new research.

Satellite tags were attached to storm petrels on the island of Mousa to study their flights between 2014 and 2017.

Each bird weighs between 25 and 30 grams – the equivalent of three pound coins.

They fly at night and so previous surveys from boats may not have spotted how long they spend in inshore waters.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which carried out the study, said the evidence could lead to greater protection for the tiny birds around our coasts.

Around 2% of the world’s storm petrel population lives at Mousa.

Birds from the colony fly up to 300 kilometres to fish, with the latest research showing a particularly popular spot around 110km south of Mousa.

Alex Kinninmonth, head of marine policy at RSPB Scotland, said: “Embracing this game-changing technology has allowed us to build a more complete picture of the lives of these elusive birds.

“Without it, any attempt to identify locations for conservation action or to assess the potential threats to the storm petrels from this important colony would have overlooked these key places.

“Scotland’s seabirds are already in trouble and face an uncertain future, so expanding our knowledge of where they go at sea and why is vital to give them a fighting chance against ever increasing human-made pressures.

“New findings such as these must be heeded by governments as they regulate activity at sea if we are to see a reversal of downward trends.”

The research was published in the Bird Conservation International journal.

Read more conservation stories on Scottish Field’s wildlife pages.