Visiting the nesting birds on the Farne Islands

Back in July, we visited Inner Farne to witness the infamous colony of arctic terns that breed on the island during the summer months.

Even after seeing footage of visitors to the island getting so close to these majestic birds, I didn’t quite expect how close we would be able to get to them and their chicks. Getting divebombed arctic terns was amazing, even if it did make me jump. 

Contrary to typical feelings towards visiting ‘the in-laws’, I love visiting Dave’s parents at their home close to Alnwick in Northumberland. Not only is it enjoyable to spend time with his family and experience the constant feeling of fullness due to the wonderfully cooked meals by Dave’s mother, it also means we get to explore the beautiful county of Northumberland.

Visiting the Farne Islands to see the nesting birds has been on my bucket list for many years and we finally happened to be visiting the in-laws at just the right time of year to go. We had taken a boat trip in the past but the nesting season had drawn to a close meaning there were few birds to see. However, on this occasion, we timed our visit perfectly.


Several different boat tour companies offer trips from Seahouses to the Farne Islands. We chose Billy Shiel’s tour based on a recommendation to Dave’s Parents.  The Shiel family have been running tours to the Islands since 1918! We booked our trip online the previous evening and collected our tickets on arrival before joining the huge queue of people at the harbour.  The day was sunny and warm so the outside section of the boat filled before people were forced to the inside section, which is where we spent the duration of the voyage out. It turned out pretty well for us because the odd wave hit the people on the back seat of the boat then sporadic showers wet them all.  We stayed dry and warm.

For just £15 per person, you get a 2.5-hour tour around the Farne Islands, one hour of which is spent upon Inner Farne itself. The skipper gives passengers plenty of time to view the seals and birds around the islands and narrates the tour, telling stories of the past and interesting facts about the area.

in addition to the boat tour fee, the National Trust charge a landing fee of around £8 per person to land on Inner Farne. The Trust do some amazing work around the country as well as protecting and surveying the breeding bird collonies of the Farne Islands.


The skipper took us to the edge of Staple Island, home to an incredible number of nesting birds including kittiwakes, shags, cormorants, razorbills, guillemots and the much-loved puffin. The skipper stops the boat to allow passengers to view the birds on the cliffs and points out some of the species. The skipper then turns the boat around to allow passengers on the other side to get a closer look.


I chatted with the skipper’s assistant for a short time, asking him about his favourite birds and whether he was sick of seeing seals every day. He explained he loved his job because every day is different and just that morning he and the tour he was on had witnessed hundreds of porpoises close the harbour. What a shame it was that we didn’t get to see them!



Look carefully and you can see several seals lying on the rocks in this photograph.


The boat moored at Farne Island and as soon as we left the boat, hundreds of terns flew above us. Straight away I spotted nesting birds on the ground, eggs and chicks of all ages. I couldn’t believe the number of birds and the close proximity we were to them. It was incredible The photo above show two chicks behind the chicken wire that acted as a barrier between the birds and the footpath.


The parent terns are so persistent at protecting their nests. They allow you extremely close before they close in on you and dive bomb you from above while making a continuous clicking call as a warning. Hats or hoods are a MUST to protect you from their sharp beaks.


Dave’s mum, Claire, and I managed to pose for a photo before being the victims of further attacks.

Even though the birds are attacking everyone it’s actually rather hilarious. The birds don’t seem to suffer from the constant flow of humans or they wouldn’t nest do close to the path.


The photo above shows temporary fencing (canes with red and white flags) that have been erected on the path to separate the silly terns that have decided to nest ON the path. That turn closes to the foreground was sitting on eggs! I just couldn’t get over the ridiculous locations some of the birds chose as their nesting site.


Just look at how close these chicks are to the path!


This photo captures my sheer joy at of the whole experience. Look how close I am to that nesting term on the human side of the fence.


Every single tern nest has it’s very own numbered stone to help the National Trust wardens monitor the birds and their chicks.


The footpath leads to the cliff edge where only a fence separates the people for more nesting birds and the edge itself.


These two shags and their chick were just the other side of the fence. They were that close I could have stroked them. Of course, I didn’t though. The birds shouldn’t be touched.


Here’s Dave capturing the shags on camera. Just look how close he is to them. The shags couldn’t care less.


This parent shag stood by its chick to cast a shadow over it in an attempt to keep it cooler. Clever bird!


It’s hard to make out from the photograph that the birds lining the roof of the building are all puffins.


“LOOK AT ALL THE PUFFINS” is a phrase I must have said at least 103 times on this day.


These are razorbills with their chick on a cliff ledge just metres from where we were stood.







Why the hell did this silly bird choose to nest right here we will never know. Maybe the bird knows that humans deter predators.


It’s feeding time for this chick. They look so much more camouflaged in these photos.



Oh my friggin’ GOD the tern chicks are cute. Just look at these fluff balls!



This guy in front of us got a good beating from that tern.


This bird was attacking me from above while I tried to photograph it.


I’m writing this blog post over a month after visiting the Farne Islands and looking through the photos has got me all giddy about the whole experience all over again.

I can’t recommend visiting the Farne Islands enough. It was an amazing experience and I would encourage anyone who loves nature or wants to get closer to nature to visit the Farne Islands during the breeding season. If you hate flappy birds and feathers, I would give it a miss, though!`


I can’t wait to return another year.

By Jenni Tulip

I'm a bright-haired, hill walking, magpie whispering, skull collecting, tree hugging, money saving, bird watching, happy campervanning, ferret fanatic, woodland dweller sharing my stories and passion for the outdoors to inspire you to immerse yourself in nature.