The vast array of unique and varied habitats spread throughout the Scottish mainland and its islands means a plethora of rare, beautiful and curious creatures can be found burrowed in undergrowth, perched on a mountainside, soaring the skies, prancing across open moorland and diving among the waves.
From the red squirrels scrabbling around the spectacular Highlands, to bottlenose dolphins splashing joyfully off the east coast, Scotland really is a playground for creatures great and small.
In fact, Scotland is home to more than 90,000 species, including myriad native birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. And if you go to the right areas at the right time of year, many are fairly easy to spot.
So, pack your binoculars, charge your camera battery and prepare for some breath-taking wildlife spotting opportunities among spectacular scenery.
Found throughout the Scottish uplands, the majestic mountain hare is a beautiful symbol of native Scottish wildlife. Its characteristic features, including colossal ears and huge feet give it a distinctive look, while its coat changes colour depending on the season. So, in winter, keep your eyes peeled for a white creature with blue hues bounding around the Shetland moorlands, while in summer look out for a slate grey and dusty brown colouring springing up among the Cairngorms landscape.
To spot the beautiful red squirrel you’ll need to head to a few very specific areas dotted around Scotland. The Highlands are a key habitat for these cute, fluffy creatures – which have mostly been overrun in the UK by their grey cousins. In fact, around 75% of the Red Squirrel population are believed to reside in Scotland, so spotting one is truly a sight to behold. As well as the Highlands, they can also be found in Perthshire and Galloway Forest Park, as well as on the Devilla Forest Red Squirrel Trail, just outside of Alloa.
On the brink of extinction in the 19th century, these super cute creatures can now be found in the pinewoods of the central Highlands. Speedy on foot and with a penchant for climbing trees, pine martens aren’t always the easiest to spot in the wild, especially with their long bushy tails and chestnut brown coat, meaning they blend particularly well into their surroundings. But a guided wildlife tour will increase your chances of laying eyes on these fluffy, teddy-bear-like mammals
These glorious creatures are the largest member of the grouse family and can mostly be found in Scottish pinewoods around the central Highlands. The males put on a particularly spectacular show when trying to woo a female, strutting, jumping and rustling to try and win over a prospective mate. While mainly grey in colour, the males have reddish-brown wings and vibrant splashes of blue on the
head, neck and breast, along with a red ring around the eyes. The females are brown with a reddish-brown patch on the breast.
Found across mainland Scotland, predominantly near wooded areas, badgers have very distinctive black and white face markings. Easiest to spot during spring and summer when the young cubs wander out of the den before nightfall, badgers are sociable creatures who live in large groups. Their setts can be spotted thanks to the very neat and tidy entrances to the burrows, often marked with piles of leaves and hay.
The truly majestic and magical red deer is perhaps Scotland’s most iconic animal and can be found throughout the country, from Cairngorms National Park to Torridon, Lochabar, Isle of Arran and Isle of Jura. Best spotted throughout autumn and winter months, red deer are the UK’s largest land mammal and the fourth largest species of deer worldwide – making them pretty easy to find. The males have huge sprawling antlers which increase in size as they get older, and can weigh up to a whopping 15kg
Head along Scotland’s vast coastline and you’re bound to set eyes on some grey seals, especially during the autumn months when you may even spot their fluffy young pups too. Seals surround the Scottish coast in abundance, residing in large colonies and can be found on rocky shores or out at sea. They are distinctive thanks to their grey skin with darker blotchy patches.
These gargantuan sea-dwelling beasts can be found in the Sound of Mull – the stretch of water between the Isle of Mull and Ardnamurchan – and around the nearby islands of Tiree and Coll, all in the Inner Hebrides. Best spotted throughout the summer months, there are unsurprisingly plenty of local boat tours which provide great opportunities to see these beauties in their natural habitat. Reaching up to 10m in length, if they’re around, they shouldn’t be too hard to set eyes on.
Perhaps the jewel in Scotland’s wildlife crown, the spectacular bottlenose dolphin can be found in waters around Ardnamurchan and the Inner Hebrides, and have even sometimes been spotted popping up in Loch Sunart. Not confined to the east coast, bottlenose dolphins are also known to reside around the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh and Moray Firth off the coast of the Scottish Highlands. Sociable, intelligent and fun-loving, spotting these creatures is always a delight.