Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Seals and seabirds

Anchored on the Firth of Forth, the Isle of May is a magical mix of seabirds, seals and smuggling.

In early summer the cliffs heave with nesting seabirds – a noisy spectacle you can witness from the cliff-top path. The island is also home to the unmistakeable puffin – a comical bird that dazzles visitors with its brightly coloured bill. In the autumn the largest Atlantic grey seal colony in eastern Britain breeds on ‘the May’, as it’s known locally.

There’s a dark past here, though, with Vikings and smugglers on the list of previous visitors.

A visit to the Isle of May is an amazing experience. Explore an island blessed with natural wonders and a rich history.

Find out more about visiting the Isle of May NNR.

Top attractions

  • See puffin – one of Scotland’s best-loved birds.
  • Follow our cliff-top paths to see nesting seabirds.
  • Watch for seals on the rocks as your boat nears the island.
  • Learn about the colourful history of this remarkable island.

Find out more about the reserve and its natural history.

Seasonal highlights

May and June are the best times to see breeding seabirds.


Seabirds begin to gather on the Isle of May in April, with numbers increasing throughout the spring. You’ll see guillemots, fulmars, terns, gulls and, of course, the cheeky little puffins. Spring is a good time to watch courtship rituals. You’ll also hear the soft cooing of male eider ducks – and look out for the females nesting right next to the paths.


In summer the island’s birds are busy with their young – rearing and fledging. At the peak of the seabird breeding season, this small island supports more than a quarter of a million birds!


Autumn sees a build up in the grey seal numbers around the island as they gather to breed. The Isle of May is also a convenient stopover for migrating birds. More than 250 species rest here on their journeys north or south.


The Isle of May can have up to 2,000 seal pups in autumn and winter. As one of the most important sites for seals in the east of Scotland, it’s a valuable centre for research.       

What’s on?

Visit our Events page to see what upcoming events you can get involved in at this reserve.


Reserve manager: David Steel
Elmwood Campus
Carslogie Road
KY15 4JB

Telephone: 01738 458800
Email: [email protected]

Find out more

Discover more about why Scotland’s National Nature Reserves were created and the partners who manage them.

Related Links

Follow the Isle of May blog to keep up to date with news from the island or find us on Facebook.

Follow our NNR Facebook page for up-to-date information on reserves across Scotland.

Isle of May NNR is a member of VisitScotland and the GTBS (Green Tourism Business Scheme).

Enjoyed your visit?

  • Make a donation to support nature and visitor facilities on our NNRs.
  • Let us know what you thought on TripAdvisor.            

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