Red-throated Diver

Gavia stellatta



This is an elegant water bird with a rounder head and thinner neck than other divers. It holds its pointed bill upwards. The sexes are similar; in the summer months, adults have a grey body with white underparts, a blue-grey face, intricate streaks on the back of the neck, and a red throat patch. In winter these birds are grey-brown and white with delicate white dots on the back. The white on the face moves around the dark eye, and the underparts and front and sides of the neck are white, but dark at the back. Juveniles are browner, their markings less distinct and their underparts a dirty-white.


North-west Scotland is the home of the only breeding grounds in the region, especially in Orkney and Shetland. It favours shallow pools on moors and bogs for breeding, though it can also nest around bodies of water. When not in breeding season, this bird tends towards coastal areas, particularly shallow, sandy bays.


When flying it appears narrow-necked and hump-backed; it beats its wings quickly, and lifts its wings high. It flies high in the air when moving between breeding and feeding areas, and when landing, it hits the water with surprising strength. Dwells in small flocks which gather on the ocean during winter.


Diet is mostly saltwater fish such as cod, herring, sand eel and sprat but also eats some freshwater fish including small salmon, trout and roach. Crustaceans and insects are eaten too.


The female usually lays 2 eggs which are marked with dark spots. She incubates them for 26-29 days, occasionally assisted minimally by the male. The young depart the nest within 24 hours and their parents feed them; they fly after 50 days and can breed at the age of 3.


Birds move to the coast to breed in autumn; migrating birds from Europe and Iceland spend winter around British and Irish coasts. Approximately 1250 pairs breed in the UK and fewer than 10 in Ireland; the winter population increases to 17 000 individuals in the UK and 1000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

It's worth looking across sheltered seas in the winter, otherwise birds in Shetland and Orkney are best viewed from a car.


During breeding season, it's not uncommon for them to give a crescendo of excited calls, like a wailing 'ya-roo, ya-roo, ya-roo'. They are mostly silent in the winter.
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