Clyde Islands

Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus ©Wikimedia Commons Website

The Clyde Islands include the Isle of Arran, the Isle of Bute and the Cumbraes.


The Isle of Arran (Eilean Arainn) or simply Arran is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde and the seventh-largest Scottish island, at 432 square kilometres (167 square miles). Historically part of Buteshire, it is in the unitary council area of North Ayrshire, but, for recording purposes it is part of the Clyde Islands. In the 2011 census it had a resident population of 4,629. Though culturally and physically similar to the Hebrides, it is separated from them by the Kintyre peninsula. Often referred to as ‘Scotland in Miniature’, the Island is divided into highland and lowland areas by the Highland Boundary Fault and has been described as a geologist’s paradise. Seen from the mainland it is described as the ‘sleeping warrior’ because of the profile of its uplands that look like a sleeping person. Its maritime climate means it is warmer than the mainland with few frosts or snow at sea-level.

The northern half of the Isle of Arran is rugged, mountainous, remote country and was the most southerly site in the UK for breeding Rock Ptarmigan. The south has gentler moorland, extensive conifer plantations and much of the island’s farmland. Much of the coast is raised beach with a shoreline of rock or shingle, and steep escarpments

The Island includes miles of coastal pathways, numerous hills and mountains, forested areas, rivers, small lochs and beaches. There is a diversity of wildlife, including three species of tree (Arran Whitebeams) endemic to the area. Red Deer are numerous in the hills and there are populations of Badger, Otter and Red Squirrel with a number of marine mammals off shore including several dolphin species.

Over 250 species of birds have been recorded. Ptarmigan and Chough no longer breed but there is a population of Hen Harrier. Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Common Buzzard, Merlin, Common Raven, Short-eared Owl as well as White-throated Dipper, European Stonechat, Red Grouse, Northern Wheatear and Common Redstart. Eurasian Nightjar and Woodcock in the forest clearings. The sea around the island is a Mature Conservation Marine Protected Area, and the uplands are a Special Protected Area to conserve the Hen Harriers.


Bute (Eilean Bhòid) lies in the Firth of Clyde with a population of c.6,500 10% less than a decade before.. The only town on the island, Rothesay, is linked by ferry to the mainland. To its north is the coastal village of Port Bannatyne; hamlets on the island include Ascog, Kilchattan Bay, and Kingarth. Farming and tourism are the main industries on the island, along with fishing and forestry.

The interior of the island is hilly, though not mountainous, with conifer plantations and some uncultivated land, particularly in the north. The highest point is Windy Hill at 278 metres (912 ft). The centre of the island contains most of the cultivated land, while the island’s most rugged terrain is found in the far south around Glen Callum. Loch Fad is Bute’s largest body of freshwater and runs along the fault line. The western side of Bute is known for its beaches, many of which enjoy fine views over the Sound of Bute towards Arran and Bute’s smaller satellite island Inchmarnock. In the north, Bute is separated from the Cowal peninsula by the Kyles of Bute. The northern part of the island is more sparsely populated, and the ferry terminal at Rhubodach connects the island to the mainland at Colintraive by the smaller of the island’s two ferries. The crossing is one of the shortest, less than 300 metres (330 yd), and takes only a few minutes but is busy because many tourists prefer the scenic route to the island. North Bute forms part of the Kyles of Bute National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.

Scalpsie Bay has a colony of over 200 seals and the island has Red Deer and Hares and is rich in birdlife. Bute’s position in the Firth of Clyde provides a sheltered refuge for sea birds, including gannets and divers. The island has a wide range of habitats from a rocky and sandy coastline that is home to waders and shore birds, farmland that supports a strong curlew population and upland habitats that make golden eagles and white-tailed eagles frequent visitors too. This is why Bute is one of the best places for birdwatching in Scotland.

There is plenty to see at all times of the year. Flocks of Greylag and Greenland White-fronted Geese spend the winter in Bute, along with Whooper Swans and many Wigeon. In summer you can watch our Ospreys and many other summer migrants. Spring and autumn provide opportunities to see migrating birds and rarities passing through. For a fairly small island, Bute has a great variety of habitats, resulting in a rich and diversified bird life, with over 100 breeding species including Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Osprey and Black Grouse. It is also important for wintering birds, particularly wildfowl, with seven species of ducks and geese present in nationally important numbers (1% or more of the Scottish population).

The Cumbraes

The main islands are Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae with the smaller islands of Trail Isle, The Broad Islands, Castle Island and the Eileans. Great Cumbrae is just 4k long and 2k wide with Millport as its only town and takes up the entire south coast of the island. The population is c.1500 people. Farming and tourism are the major activities, although there is a golf course, museum and aquarium. It has a large seabird population. Little Cumbrae, just one kilometre south of Great Cumbrae is less fertile being rocky and having a small population. It has a castle and lighthouse, although the latter has been unused since 1997. The island is privately owned; the owners have opened a yoga and meditation centre there. The smaller islands are uninhabited.

The Clyde Islands Bird Report is incorporated within Clyde Birds, but there is a separate report for Arran, published by Arran Natural History Society.

Top Sites
  • Arran

    Best coastal birding spots for autumn migrants and winter wildfowl are Lochranza, Lamlash and Sliddery.
County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: Bute 241

  • Number of bird species: Arran 250

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
  • Birding on Arran

    Arran is a special place with special birds. Birding on Arran is interesting at any time of the year. The Isle of Arran, a wildlife haven, lies in the Firth of Clyde, 28km west of the Ayrshire coast, 5km east of the Kintyre peninsula. For instructions on how to get there follow the link for Travel.
  • Arran Bird Report

    The annual report is jam packed with information.
  • Isle of Arran Birds

    The northern half of the Isle of Arran is rugged, mountainous, remote country and is the most southerly site in the UK for breeding Rock Ptarmigan.
  • Bute Bird Group

    We are a group of people who enjoy birdwatching to identify, understand and monitor the varied bird life on and around the Isle of Bute.
Sightings, News & Forums
  • Isle of Bute Bird and Wildlife sightings

Trip Reports
  • 2022 [04 April] - Ewan Urquhart

    In the Spring of most years we rent a cottage on the northwest side of Arran. We like this part of the island as it is quiet, beautiful and for the most part we have the surrounding coastline and rocky beaches to ourselves. This area of Arran is separated from the Kintyre peninsula to the west, by a stretch of sea called Kilbrannan Sound.
Other Links
  • Birds in the woods trail

    We're excited to unveil our newest trail over at Balnakailly Oak Woodland highlighting some of the amazing birds you can find in the Community Forest!
  • Isle of Arran

    The Isle of Arran (19km by 42km) lies in the Firth of Clyde 28km west of the Ayrshire coast, 5km east of Kintyre peninsula. Its northern half is rugged, mountainous, remote country, good habitat for Golden Eagle and Red Deer.

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