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Birds visit Mull to breed in Summer, because of its huge insect life. Insects proliferate during Spring and early Summer, when the island has a rather 'tropical' climate, of sun and rain. After early Spring rains, the island almost always has a very dry and sunny May, and this is when birds arrive from Africa to lay eggs and rear their young. Because of our bird's 'African Connection', they are pretty colourful! The Wheater and Whinchat are moorland birds, and the males of both species are particularly handsome. However, some birds do stay on the island for the whole year, and these include Chaffinch, Robin, Rock Pipit and the Stonechat, which is also a very colourful bird. The male has a black head, reddish chest and white collar, and the female has a browner head, otherwise it is the same. Tufted Puffins breed on islands and rocky cliffs in the arctic waters of the North Pacific, which includes the Arctic, Bering, and Okhotsk seas. They are most commonly seen flying near land, coming or leaving the breeding colonies to feed their young. Tufted Puffins are the size of pigeons, but weigh nearly twice as much (1 kg, 2 lbs)! In flight they look like flying cigars, moving very quickly close to water. They feed by diving, then flying under water with their wings in pursuit of small minnow-like fish. Puffins hold the fish in their bills until they return to the nest to feed the puffin chicks. Sometimes a parent puffin will carry a dozen fish carefully arranged head-to-tail in their bills!
During the summer months the most common bird to be seen on Mull is the Meadow Pipit and it is a bird which you will encounter anywhere away from trees. In fact, if you spot a similar looking bird and you are in woodland, it is almost certainly the Tree Pipit. Consult the bird books for the difference between the two, because it is quite subtle. The Skylark, like the Meadow Pipit, is another 'little brown job' or LBJ, as birders put it, though the Skylark has one heck of a voice!! Its wonderful display song is now becoming very rare in England, but here in The Hebrides, there is still lots of suitable habitat for the Skylark, and like most of our smaller birds, it nests on the ground. Around Hebridean farmland you will find the Twite, which tends to replace the Linnet here, though Linnets have increased in recent years. Moving up in size and altitude, you might encounter a handsome black, white and brown bird; this is the Golden Plover. Most people see the Golden Plover on estuaries in winter, when it has an overall brown plumage, but in its breeding plumage, like most of the 'Wader' family, it is quite dashing. On our limited estuarine habitat, there are Redshanks, occasional Greenshanks, Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and Snipe, which nest in the boggy areas abounding the estuaries. Though our estuaries are small in number, these areas become alive in Autumn and Spring, as waders stop to rest on their way North to the Arctic, and South to Africa and Southern Europe. You will often see Merlins and Peregrines in this habitat also, as they follow their prey south. Estuaries also tend to produce the odd rarity during migration time and we annually see Ospreys in these localities at the end of the summer.
Our woodlands come alive in late Spring, as various Warblers set up territory. You will also see the Redstart, which is as handsome as a bird can get, with its blue, black, red and white plumage and flashing red tail. There are Flycatchers, Tree Creepers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Bullfinches. Woodcock sit among fallen leaves, and if you are lucky enough to see one, you must agree, that they have every colour of brown that is possible, within their plumage.