This is one of Scotland’s scarcest seabirds, often referred to across the country by its Shetland dialect name of ‘tystie’. It’s not difficult to see if you keep alert for it along western and northern coasts. What it lacks in numbers, the tystie makes-up-for in terms of summer chic, with elegant plumage and a high-stepping line in land-based displays.
What to look for
Male and female tysties look alike throughout the year. In summer, their whole plumage is black, except for a broad white patch on each wing. Legs and bill lining are crimson. Winter plumage is freckled grey, black and white.
The tystie is an auk, related to the much commoner guillemot, razorbill and puffin. It doesn’t breed in large colonies, but is scattered along the coast in solitary pairs and small groups. Tysties defend inshore territories, where they dive in shallow water to catch prey such as butterfish.
When and where to see
Unlike the other auks that breed in Scotland, the tystie does not go in for long-distance movements from season to season. So the places where it breeds are also where you’re likely to see it in winter. Hub of the Scottish tystie population is Shetland, where thousands breed. But you should also have a good chance of tystie watching in Orkney and along much of the west coast and islands, from Cape Wrath in the north to Loch Ryan in the south.
Orkney and Shetland; Sound of Harris (look for tysties loafing on channel buoys as you use the inter-island ferry); harbour wall at Portpatrick.
For more information see the RSPB's black guillemot page.