Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus ©Caithness Biodiversity Group Website

Caithness is the former Caithness district of the Highland Unitary Authority and is co-terminus with the Watsonian ‘vice-county’ number 109. It shares a boundary to the west with the Highland region and the rest is bordered by the North Sea. Across the Pentland Firth is Orkney.

Caithness extends about 30 miles (48 km) north-south and about 30 miles (48 km) east-west, with an area of c.700 square miles (1,840 km2). The topography is generally flat, in contrast to the majority of the remainder of the North of Scotland. Until the latter part of the 20th century when large areas were planted with conifers, this level profile was rendered still more striking by the almost total absence of woodland. For the most part it is low rolling hills, farmland, moorland and small villages.

The sea on three sides is rich in marine life including seals, otters and cetaceans. There is just one island that is part of the county, Stroma. Dunnet Head is the most northerly point in mainland Britain. The flow country of Caithness and Sutherland are famous for upland breeding waders especially Greenshank. Inland the habitat is dominated by Blanket Bog, at as much as 580 square miles it is the largest in Europe and known as the Flow Country. It is divided by river valleys where most farming is done. To the far south the land rises culminating with a peak, Morven (706m). Throughout the flow country are many small lochs. Caithness’s low population density and relative inaccessibility means it is still favoured by species that are in decline elsewhere such as waders and flocks of overwintering birds. Much of the eastern coastline is designated a Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area.

County Recorder
Useful Reading

  • A Guide to the Breeding Birds of Caithness

    | By G W R Dickson | Palanquin Books | 1996 | Hardback | ISBN: 9780948122125 Buy this book from
  • The Birds and Mammals of Caithness

    | Robert Innes Shearer's Contributions to the Natural History of Caithness 1859-1867 | Edited by: H Clark & R M Sellers | Hugh Clark | 2004 | Paperback | 248 Pages, B&W Illustrations | ISBN: 9780954919702 Buy this book from
Birding Aps
  • Where to Watch Birds in Scotland

    Apple iOS | Android
    This app will help beginners and experts alike to discover hundreds of the best places to see and enjoy birds around the country.

    Where to Watch Birds in Scotland, the Scottish Ornithologists' Club's free mobile app for Apple and Android devices, now has over 580 sites. New sites will continue to be added and existing ones updated as far as possible. The app launched in April 2019 and since then has been downloaded by more than 15,000 users and amassed over 750,000 site views. It won 'Product of the Year' in Birdwatch and BirdGuides' 2019 Birders' Choice Awards, and the BTO/Marsh Award for Local Ornithology 2020.
Useful Information
  • Birds of Caithness (Revised 2017)

    In January 2017, Caithness SOC announced the publication of a revised edition of The ‘Birds of Caithness’, in book form! This hard-backed book is 458pp and A4 in size, with dust jacket. The atlas’ new format includes amended maps and revised texts. The cost is £40 + p&p. To purchase a copy, please email Sinclair Manson or contact him at 7 Duncan Street, Thurso, KW14 7HZ.
  • Birds of Caithness including the Breeding & Wintering Atlas 2007 – 2012

    Birds of Caithness including the Breeding & Wintering Atlas 2007 – 2012 The ‘Birds of Caithness’ DVD was published in December 2015 by Caithness SOC. It is the distillation of over 200 years of observations documenting the fascinating birdlife of the county. The 458 page document is formatted to allow for viewing either as double-page spreads on the web or as high-resolution pdfs.. There are still a few copies for sale at Waterston House, SOC's headquarters. Please phone us on 01875 871330 if you'd like to purchase a copy.
  • Caithness Bird Report

    PDF Report
    Caithness Bird Report Is published by SOC Caithness branch - The latest Caithness Bird Report is only available in digital form and can be downloaded free
  • Caithness Biodiversity Group

  • SOC Caithness Branch

    Contact Nina O'Hanlon on 07810 300392 or

Abbreviations Key

  • LNR Munsary

    WebpageSatellite View
    Munsary is a vast, undulating plain of peatland. Plantlife owns 3,058 acres (1,238 ha) here.
  • LNR St John's Pool Nature Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    To gain access to the other bird hides that are closer to the pool (and to the birds) a charge is made.
  • NNR Forsinard Flows

    InformationSatellite View
    Forsinard Flows NNR is managed by RSPB. The rolling landscape of bogland, studded with thousands of pools is home to a wide range of rare and unusual birds, animals and plants. Here greenshanks, golden plovers, dunlin, merlin and hen harrier breed. they share the peatlands with millions of insect eating sundew plants, dragonflies and red deer. The peatlands of the Flow Country are of particular importance for Red-throated and Black-throated Divers and Common Scoter. Breeding waders abound as do Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.
  • RSPB Broubster Leans

    WebpageSatellite View
    A highland reserve whose patchwork of habitats attracts breeding waders in summer and flocks of wildfowl in winter.
  • RSPB Dunnet Head

    WebpageSatellite View
    Wild and rugged Dunnet Head is a place of spectacular 360 views across the sea where cliff-loving Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots thrive.
  • WT Rumster Forest

    InformationSatellite View
    Conifer woodland with spruce, pine & sycamore, set in a remote hilly area with views across the coast. Lots of wildlife, especially deer & buzzards. Tar-surfaced pathway & picnic site. Sights include ruined crofts and the remains of a broch.
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Caithness Bird News

    News forum and sightings etc.
  • Caithness Birds

    Twitter Feed
    Sightings, news and chatter on Caithness birding.
  • Caithness Birds

    Facebook page
Places to Stay
  • Mackays Hotel

    Our wee corner of Scotland is a haven for birdwatching. Guests staying at Mackays Hotel or one of our holiday homes can enjoy some wonderful sightings. From seabirds along the dramatic coastline to woodland birds in the forests, there is a wide variety of birdlife to see during a visit to Caithness. Popular spots for birdwatching include the RSPB nature reserve at Dunnet Head and the Forestry Commision’s Rumster Forest.
Other Links
  • Caithness Wildlife Tourism

    Caithness and Sutherland have a rich a varied wildlife, with the lack of intensive farming we find in other areas of our country we are a haven for otherwise rare breeds of birds, insects and mammals

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

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