The Grand Bird Guide

This is a deep-dive! You’ll see most birds early in the season, May-July, many species migrate south later in the summer. Kayaking is a fantastic way to experience the rich birdlife around the islands. In our Guidebook, you'll find illustrations so that you can identify birds while paddling.


Diverse birdlife

The area is famous for its large number of White-tailed Eagles and sighting them soaring high up in the sky is almost a given. They nest in sturdy trees that are hundreds of years old in the inner and middle parts of the archipelago, and cover vast areas while hunting for prey. Grey Herons breed in colonies in tall trees in the inner archipelago, and they too search for food far and wide all the way to the outer archipelago.

Most notably, no less than 35 typical coastal birds breed on the islands in the inner, middle and outer archipelago! You’ll find different types of ducks, geese, waders, auks and gulls. Some typical Baltic species are Velvet Scoters, Ruddy Turnstones and Razorbills, which breed in the protection of squawking colonies of gulls and terns. Spotting predatory birds like Ospreys, Great Cormorants and Arctic Skuas is a delight!

Ornitologists beware! As bird knowledge is a bit of a jungle of terminology for most of us, this deep-dive is divided by either order, family or species (whichever makes the most sense for Saint Anna & Gryt).

Birds of Prey

Birds of prey include species of birds that primarily hunt and feed on vertebrates that are large relative to the hunter. Additionally, they have keen eyesight for detecting food at a distance or during flight, strong feet equipped with talons for grasping or killing prey, and powerful, curved beaks for tearing flesh.

  • White-tailed Eagle (Havsörn) - common
  • Osprey (Fiskgjuse) -  common
  • Montagu’s Harrier (Ängshök) - rare
  • Buzzard (Ormvråk) - rare

White-tailed Eagle

The largest bird of prey in Northern Europe, measures 69 – 92 cm with a wing span of 200 – 245 cm. When in flight, the wings are very broad with many fingers visible, making a rectangular shape. White-tailed eagles are most often seen soaring high up in the sky. Along with other soaring birds like ospreys and hawks, they can maintain flight using rising air currents and not flap their wings. They are fantastic aviators and can soar up to a couple of thousand meters, no longer visible to the human eye.

The nest is very large and heavy, around 500 kilos! White-tailed eagles mate for life and use the same nests year after year. Only very sturdy trees are suitable, pines have to be over 100 years old.

Hunting methods used are varied - quick blitz attacks, stubborn stalking of birds or leisurely wandering the ground near shallow waters. Often they sit absolutely still waiting for prey to appear and then hone in for a quick attack. Most sightings occur when they are hovering in the air searching for food. They glide in circles, systematically moving across their hunting grounds, or fly low and fast to locate and surprise their pray. Sometimes the couple will hunt together.

When fishing. they dive towards the surface and grab the fish by the claws and continue their flight. If their pray is large, they may swim to land using their wings! In shallow waters, they often sit on rocks, or wade near the shoreline, to catch pike juveniles. A little leap and flap of the wings is often enough to catch them by the claws.

The White-tailed eagle is a versatile hunter with a diet consisting of fish, birds and smaller mammals. Birds are more energy consuming to hunt than fish, and mammals usually mean cadavers. They will often steal food from other birds, and lately, as the Great cormorant has returned to many coastal areas, snatch the young from their nests.


A fish-eating bird of prey that measures 55-60 cm with a wing span of 145-170 cm. In flight, the wings are arched with drooping "hands", which gives it a gull-like appearance.The osprey is a soaring bird just like the White-tailed Eagle, using rising air currents to maintain flight instead of flapping its wings. It's however not as elegant an aviator as the eagle. Ospreys are often seen hovering still in the air above the sea, then dive into the water. If successful, they ascend with a fish in their claws. The journey back to the nest is often several kilometres.

Great Cormorant

There's just one bird belonging to the family "Suliformes" in Saint Anna & Gryt - the Great Cormorant. Spottings in the inner and middle parts of Saint Anna & Gryt are common, either standing on barren small rocks, or in flight. The plumage of the Great Cormorant is not completely water repellant, which facilitates diving and swimming. They are excellent swimmers and can stay under water for long periods of time searching for food. In order to dry back up again, they spread their wings and stabilise their body with a stiff tail.

Great cormorants are quite controversial. They have historically been considered somewhat of a pest among birds. Their droppings contain high levels of ammonia, which kills vegetations around the colony. These islands are often distinguished by dead treas and lack of other plants. If the birds disappear, the ammonia transforms into nitrates which fertilises the soil, and vegetation quickly reappears. They were also seen as a competitor for fish and disliked for ruining fishing gear. Research has however shown that Great Cormorants have little effect on fish stock.

Girl wearing shell jacket over down puffer jacketGirl wearing insulating down jacket as an reinforcement garment on top of shell jacket
Reinforcement garment under shell jacket as part of mid layer
Reinforcement garment on top of shell for extra insulation during breaks

Grey Heron

There's just one bird in Saint Anna & Gryt belonging to the heron family - the Grey Heron. Spottings in the inner and middle parts of Saint Anna & Gryt are common, most often in flight. Standing up to a meter tall, the Grey heron is a large predatory wading bird.

In flight, the wings are arched and the neck is pulled back close to the body, giving it a high-chested profile. When resting, they pull one leg up and balance on the other. They hunt by standing absolutely still in the water, and quickly snatch fish swimming past. They breed in the inner parts of the Saint Anna & Gryt Archipelagos, but search for food far away from their nest. They are quite commonly spotted flying low over the water.


Most waders have long legs and a long beak, adapted to searching for food in shallow waters. They generally feed off insects, mollusks, worms and crustaceans. Waders is a suborder that belongs to the order Charadriiformes, in which also gulls, auks and skuas are included.

There are five wader species in the Saint Anna & Gryt Archipelagoes. With just around 300 breeding couples in the area, it's a quite small group and spotting them is a real treat! They breed in the outer archipelago, often in protection of squawking gulls & terns.

  • Oystercatcher (Strandskata) – by far the most common
  • Redshank (Rödbena) – rare
  • Ruddy Turnstone (Roskarl) – rare
  • Ringed Plover (Större strandpipare) – very rare
  • Sandpiper (Drillsnäppa) – very rare.


The Oystercatcher is highly identifiable with its black and white plumage, red legs and broad red bill. The bill is very strong and used to smash or prise open molluscs like mussels or for finding earth worms. They are also loud and unafraid, which makes it easy for bird watchers to spot them.

For a wader, it's a pretty good swimmer and on the coast it lives off mainly mussels, whereas earth worms is the main diet inland. They have several different techniques to open mussels, for example smashing the muscle that shuts the shell, or even throwing them from up high. It only takes 10-15 seconds to open and eat the mussel.

Skuas, Gulls & Auks

These birds belong to the order Charadriiformes, just like waders, and are divided into different families. Gulls, and their close cousins terns, belong to the same family, whereas skuas are not as closely related and placed in their own family. Gulls, terns and skuas do however belong to the same subgroup, in which the more distantly related auks are not included. Waders are even more distant still, therefore described in a section of their own.

Arctic Skua

Skuas are predatory birds which often steal catch from gulls and terns, or feed on eggs and chicks. The family includes some large birds, but the Arctic skua that breeds in Sweden is the smallest of the family. They are agile aggressive aviators, intruders are dived at in a practice called dive bombing.

The only skua in Saint Anna & Gryt is the Arctic skua (kustlabb). Spottings are quite rare, but it's a fascinating bird to see since it's such an agile hunter. Arctic Skuas breed in the outer archipelago. The Arctic skua is somewhat of a pirate. They often stalk gulls or terns and they seem to have a particular ability to recognise if another sea bird just caught fish, even if it's not visible. In a breakneck maneuver, skuas will attack until the other bird feels compelled to either drop or even regurgitate its catch, which the skua elegantly catches mid-air. During breeding, the couple often hunt together, mostly for fish but also smaller sea-birds like waders or auks.

Gulls (and Terns)

Gulls are medium to large birds, usually grey or white, with black markings on the head or wings. They stay inland or on the coast, and rarely venture far out to sea. Most gulls nest on the ground in large noisy colonies, calls are a characteristic squawking or wailing. They catch live prey or scavenge opportunistically, often using resourceful and complex methods that require an advanced social structure.

Terns are more slender than gulls, typically pale grey and white, with a black cap to the head. They nest in colonies similar to gulls, but mainly feed on fish caught by diving from flight.

It may seem tricky to identify all the different birds in this family, but it's a fun skill to have since a lot of them are such a common sight in Saint Anna & Gryt.

  • Herring Gull (Gråtrut) – the most common gull in the area
  • Common Gull (Fiskmås) – second most common gull in the area
  • Black-headed Gull (Skrattmås) – less common
  • Great Black-backed Gull (Havstrut) – less common
  • Lesser Black-backed gull (Silltrut) – rare, only 27 breeding couples
  • Arctic Tern (Silvertärna) - the most common tern in the area
  • Common Tern (Fisktärna) - less common
  • Caspian Tern (Skräntärna) - less common, very rare to spot since all couples breed on a couple of islets far out to sea
Black-headed Gull

The Black-headed Gull is easy to identify thanks to is black head! It's not as common as Herring Gull or Common Gull, but spottings in the area are fairly frequent.

Although many gulls are loud, Black-headed gulls sound almost like they are laughing (which is why it in Swedish is called 'laughing gull' translated).

Auks often spend most of their lives on the open sea and go ashore only for breeding. Auks breed in colonies in the outer parts of the archipelago. They are pretty rare, the family only has around 300 breeding couples in the area.

Arctic Tern

They migrate south early, in July and the first week of August. In the middle of August you cannot spot any in the area, whereas the Common tern will still be around. It can be difficult to separate the Arctic tern from the Common tern. The Common tern's beak has a black tip, it has longer legs, a lighter underside and white throat.

Fun fact: They migrate so early because out of all bird species on the planet, they migrate the furthest - all the way to the Antarctic ocean!!


Auks are known for their ability to fly not just in the air but also under water. They are fantastic swimmers, whereas their upright walk appears somewhat clumsy, similar to penguins. Auks have short wings, adapted for diving for fish rather than elegant flight. They are black and white in colour and the northern species are medium sized birds.

  • Razorbill (Tordmule) - most common
  • Black Guillemot (Tobisgrissla) - less common
  • Common Guillemot (Sillgrissla) - very rare

The Razorbill is the common auk in the area, but it is still rare to spot one. This is a very typical Baltic bird species, so bird lovers will be excited too spot them! Appr. 200 couples breed in colonies in the outer archipelago.

Great Crested Grebe

The only bird in the area belonging to the Grebes family of aquatic diving birds. It's very beautiful and easy to identify, young birds are black and white. They breed near the water's edge in the inner archipelago and do not migrate until September or October, so you can spot them later in the season also.

Ducks, Swans and Geese

These very common birds all belong to the same family. They can seem a little 'boring' compared to other birds, but since they're so easy to spot while paddling, it can be fun to be able to point out the different species. Female and male ducks often have very different appearances!


  • Eider (Ejder) – common
  • Tufted Duck (Vigg) – common
  • Goosander (Storskrake) – common
  • Red-breasted merganser (Småskrake)  – common
  • Mallard (Gräsand) – common
  • Goldeneye (Knipa) – less common
  • Velvet Skoter (Svärta) – less common, have decreased a lot in numbers
  • Common Shelduck (Gravand) – very rare
  • Northern Shoveler (Skedand) – very rare
  • Gadwall (Snatterand) – very rare
  • Eurasian wigeon (Bläsand) – very rare

The Goldeneye duck has seen a steep decrease in numbers, likely due to hunting. On some specialised trips we put up nesting boxes for them, giving them a safe space to breed away from predators.


The Eider's importance as a food source can be noted throughout Swedish history. It is unique in having different words for older males and females, as well as younger females and males, 4 different names in total still used to this day. Migrates when the sea starts to freeze, so around all season.


Females have a spiky crest, but not the males. Their call sound almost frog like and they attract chicks from other couples. You can sometimes see a female followed by 50 chicks! If you get to close they flee by almost running across the water. Migrates in September/October.

Tufted Duck

The male has a distinctive hanging head tuft (tofs). Females have a smaller tuft. Dives a lot and reappears in the same spot where it dove. Migrates in September.

Swans & Geese

Common spottings all in the inner and middle archipelago, often with ducklings! Females and males look very similar.

  • Mute Swan (Knölsvan) – common
  • Greylag Goose (Grågås) – common
  • Canada Goose (Kanadagås) – common

Birds to listen for

Eurasian Eagle-Owl

Deep two syllable oo-hoo. Spotting one is very rare, but we actually had some guests a few years back who saw one in flight.


Makes an easily recognisable ku-kooo sound.