The birds, mostly guillemots, have starved to death from Shetland down to Berwickshire because a shortage of food, due to heavy industrial fishing in the North Sea, and persistent gales which have prevented them from feeding.
Beaches all round Scapa Flow in Orkney are littered with corpses. On one 100-metre stretch of beach yesterday, 12 guillemots were found by Keith Fairclough, the RSPB warden on Orkney. Smaller numbers of dead razorbills, puffins, little auks, cormorants and shags are also being found.
Mr Fairclough said: 'I think that this must be one of the worst bird wrecks ever. The January gales have gone on far longer than usual - they are still going on now - and the birds are not able to feed. They have no fat on their breasts.'
Martin Heubeck, an ornithologist at the University of Aberdeen, said: 'There are a large proportion of adult birds among those that we have found. Normally we would expect to see more juvenile birds because there is a higher mortality of young birds over their first winter. However, it seems that adult birds that have begun to move near the shore for the start of the breeding season have been caught by the bad weather.'
Razorbills, guillemots and other North Sea birds feed on small fish such as sand eels, herring and codling, but these have been severely depleted because of heavy industrial fishing. The small fish are taken for making fish meal.