The Big 10: The Best Scottish Wildlife to spot

Are you ready for the wild and untamed heart of Scotland? Where majestic creatures roam the rugged landscapes and awe-inspiring encounters with nature await at every turn!

If you’re a wildlife enthusiast seeking amazing spotting opportunities, you’ve come to the right place!

Scotland is a great place for animal lovers, boasting a rich tapestry of diverse habitats and an impressive array of wildlife species.

From soaring birds of prey to playful marine mammals and elusive predators, Scotland’s wildlife will captivate your imagination and leave you yearning for more.

So, grab your binoculars and join us on our journey as we unveil the top wildlife in Scotland you can spot!

A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a UK travel expert – while I grew up in Scotland, as an adult I now return to visit almost every year – there’s so much to see! Shout (or comment below) if you have any questions about your next trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

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Top Scottish Wildlife to Spot

Are any of these on your must-see list when you go wildlife spotting in Scotland?

  1. Golden Eagle
  2. Dolphins
  3. Deer
  4. Capercaillie
  5. Puffins
  6. Red Squirrels
  7. Ospreys
  8. Otters
  9. Pine Martens
  10. Seals

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Golden eagle in Scotland

1. Golden Eagle

One of the most majestic birds in Scotland is the Golden Eagle. With its impressive wingspan and regal presence, spotting a Golden Eagle soaring through the Scottish skies is a truly wondrous experience.

Where to see them:

Golden Eagles are rare to spot but if you know where to look you might get lucky! To increase your chances of encountering one, you’ll want to head to the western and northern parts of Scotland.

The Scottish Highlands, including areas such as Cairngorms National Park, Wester Ross, and the Isle of Skye, are known to be prime habitats for the Golden Eagle. These areas offer the rugged, mountainous landscapes and open moorlands that they prefer.

When to see them:

The best time to spot Golden Eagles is during the spring and summer months, particularly from April to August.

During this time, the eagles are busy establishing territories, building nests, and rearing their young. Keep in mind that patience and keen observation are key when searching for these elusive creatures.

Your best bet is seeing them flying – look for them soaring high above the mountains, circling in search of prey. Perhaps you might be lucky and spot one perched on rocky outcrops.

dolphins near Inverness

2. Dolphins

Scotland’s coastal waters are teeming with life, and one of the most wonderful creatures you’ll encounter there is the dolphin.

Where to see them:

Dolphins can be seen all around the coast of Scotland but there are some areas that are more likely to have them:

I always recommend heading to the Moray Firth which is the best place to see dolphins near Inverness and is located in the northeastern part of Scotland. You can even see dolphins without having to get on a boat trip.

This stretch of coastline is renowned for its resident population of bottlenose dolphins, making it one of the best places in Scotland for dolphin sightings. The Moray Firth offers a combination of sheltered bays, estuaries, and deeper waters that provide an ideal habitat for them.

When to see them:

The best time to see dolphins in the Moray Firth is if you’re in Scotland in the summer months, from May to September although they can be seen year round, just with less certainty.

During this period, the waters are usually calmer, and dolphins are more active, often leaping and playing in the waves.

scottish wildlife

3. Deer

When it comes to iconic wildlife in Scotland, the majestic Red Deer is often first to mind. Known for its grandeur and graceful presence, the Red Deer is the largest land mammal in the country and a symbol of the Scottish Highlands.

Where to see them:

To have a good chance of encountering these magnificent creatures, you’ll want to head into the vast wilderness of the Scottish Highlands, where they thrive. Areas such as Cairngorms National Park, Glen Affric, and even some islands like the Isle of Rum are renowned for their Red Deer populations.

When to see them:

The best time to see Red Deer is if you’re visiting Scotland during the autumn months, specifically from September to November. This period is also the rutting season, when male stags engage in dramatic displays of strength and dominance to attract mates.

Witnessing the roaring stags and their epic battles is a truly unforgettable sight – we were on Rum one time and could hear them calling! During this time, it’s worth exploring the remote glens and open moorlands where the Red Deer gather.

When observing Red Deer it’s important to maintain a safe distance – they can be unpredictable animals. Be especially careful if you also have a dog with you on your travels.

capercaillie in snow in scotland

4. Capercaillie

Deep within the ancient woodlands of Scotland, a unique and elusive bird awaits your discovery – the Capercaillie. Perhaps this one is new to you? It’s definitely a unique one!

Renowned for its size, beauty, and captivating courtship displays, the Capercaillie holds a special place in Scotland’s wildlife kingdom.

Where to see them:

To catch a glimpse of a capercaillie you’ll want to head to the Caledonian pine forests in the Scottish Highlands. Some examples are places like Abernethy Forest, Glen Affric, and Rothiemurchus Estate which are known to be prime habitats for the capercaillie.

These dense and ancient woodlands provide the perfect cover and food sources for these forest-dwelling birds.

When to see them:

The best time to spot Capercaillie is during the breeding season, which typically occurs between March and May.

During this period, male Capercaillies showcase their impressive courtship rituals, featuring striking displays of flapping wings, inflating neck feathers, and distinctive calls echoing through the forest.

Patience and careful observation are key, as these birds are masters of blending into their surroundings. They are also quite rare too.

Consider joining guided nature walks where you might get a better chance of seeing them.

puffin on scottish island

5. Puffins

Whimsical and endearing puffins grace the Scottish coastal cliffs and are another iconic piece of Scottish wildlife. These distinctive seabirds, with their colourful beaks and comical antics tempt bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike to watch them.

Where to see them:

To see these bustling colonies of puffins, you’ll need to head to certain coastal locations in Scotland, particularly along the northern and western isles. The Isle of May in the Firth of Forth (there are many boat trips which also go around the Forth bridges), the Isle of Lunga in the Treshnish Isles, and the Isle of Staffa near Mull are all popular spots where puffins can be found.

When to see them:

The best time to see puffins in Scotland is during the breeding season, which typically occurs from April to August.

During this period, the puffins return to their nesting sites on the cliffs, creating vibrant and bustling colonies. They spend their days fishing at sea and return to their burrows or cliff ledges to feed their chicks.

Many sites have designated viewing areas or guided tours that provide an opportunity to watch puffins while minimising any impact on their nesting grounds.

scottish red squirrel

6. Red squirrels

In the enchanting woodlands of Scotland, a delightful and iconic creature reigns supreme – the charming red squirrel. Well, it tries to – it’s been a little depleted in numbers over the years having been almost wiped out.

With its russet fur, tufted ears, and lively antics, the red squirrel adds a touch of vibrancy to Scotland’s natural landscapes.

Where to see them:

To catch a glimpse of red squirrels you’ll need to go to the right places. They aren’t around everywhere. Try exploring the woodlands and forests in the Highlands, Cairngorms National Park, or the Trossachs National Park. These areas provide the ideal habitat for red squirrels, with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees that offer both food and shelter.

When to see them:

The best time to see red squirrels is during the spring and summer months when they are most active.

During this period, they busily forage for food, scampering through the treetops or darting along the forest floor. Look for signs of nibbled pine cones or listen for their distinct chattering and rustling sounds.

To increase your chances of encountering red squirrels, visit woodland areas with established feeders or hides specifically designed for squirrel viewing. These sites often offer opportunities to observe the squirrels up close, providing a fascinating glimpse into their natural behaviours.

osprey in Scotland

7. Ospreys

The next bird on the list is a real fisherman (fisherbird?) – the Osprey. These powerful and agile birds of prey are a true testament to the wonders of Scottish wildlife.

Extremely rare not too long ago (I remember when they were thought to be extinct here) – they have been having a reemergence lately.

Where to see them:

To have the best chance of observing ospreys first check the best times – they are migratory birds so only around at certain times of the year.

Then you’ll want to head to specific locations where they are known to nest and fish. One such place is the RSPB Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Cairngorms National Park where we got the chance to see them a few years ago.

Here, you can experience close-up views of these incredible birds and learn about their behavior and conservation efforts.

Another prime location is the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes Visitor Centre and Wildlife Reserve near Dunkeld. With a picturesque backdrop, this reserve offers opportunities to observe ospreys as they build their nests, raise their young, and dive into the water to catch fish.

When to see them:

The best time to see ospreys in Scotland is from April to August when they are most active during their breeding season. During this period, they return from their winter migration to nest by the country’s lochs and rivers.

otters on River Don in Scotland

8. Otters

Next we have the playful and elusive otters that call the Scottish waterways their home. These charismatic creatures, known for their sleek bodies and playful nature, are a true delight to encounter in the wild. They can be tricky to spot though!

Where to see them:

To increase your chances of spotting otters, head to the coastal areas, estuaries, and freshwater lochs of Scotland. Places like the Isle of Skye, the Shetland Islands, and the west coast, including the Inner Hebrides, are known for their thriving otter populations.

When to see them:

Otters can be seen year round in Scotland. The best time to see them is during the early morning or late evening when they are most active.

They often emerge from their dens or holt sites to hunt for fish, crabs, and other prey. Keep in mind that otters are predominantly nocturnal, so patience and keen observation are essential if you want to tick this one off!

Look for signs of otter activity, such as their distinctive tracks or “spraints” (otter droppings) on rocks near the water’s edge.

You may also spot them swimming or diving in search of food, creating ripples in the calm waters.

Scottish Pine Marten

9. Pine Marten

Venture into the Scottish woodlands, and you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the elusive and captivating pine martens. With their slender bodies, bushy tails, and bright eyes, these members of the mustelid family add a touch of mystery to Scotland’s natural landscapes.

Where to see them:

To increase your chances of encountering pine martens, explore the woodlands and forests of Scotland, particularly in areas known for their healthy populations, such as the Cairngorms National Park, Wester Ross, and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.

When to see them:

The best time to see pine martens is during the early morning or late evening when they are most active. As nocturnal creatures, they spend their days resting in tree hollows or cozy dens, emerging at dusk to hunt for small mammals, birds, and insects.

seals on Isle of Skye
Seals near the Isle of Skye

10. Seals

Finally on our look at the top Scottish wildlife to see we have the graceful and curious seals. These captivating creatures can be found all along the Scottish coastlines, basking on rocky shores and bobbing in the sea, providing a delightful glimpse into the marine world.

You might even be lucky to see some resident seals in various harbours around the country – there’s one at Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders that we saw when we visited even after years between trips.

Where to see them:

To witness seals in their natural habitat, explore coastal areas such as the Isle of Skye, the Orkney Islands, and the Moray Firth. These regions are known for their thriving seal populations, offering ample opportunities to observe these marine mammals up close.

When to see them:

The best time to see seals in Scotland is during their breeding season, which typically occurs between June and August. During this period, seals gather on remote beaches or rocky outcrops to give birth to their pups. Watching the tender interactions between mother and pup is a heartwarming sight that showcases the bonds within the seal community.

Seals are often spotted sunbathing on rocky shores or swimming near the coastline, their sleek bodies gracefully navigating the waves. Keep a keen eye out for their characteristic heads bobbing above the water or their silhouettes resting on exposed rocks during low tide.

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Top Scottish Wildlife – conclusion

While I could go on and on with different animals and birds you can see in Scotland I hope this post has given you a great glipse into the variety that can be found here.

Scotland is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, offering a diverse array of captivating creatures to discover. From soaring golden eagles to comical puffins, from majestic red deer to elusive pine martens, and from agile otters to graceful seals, Scotland’s wildlife never fails to leave a lasting impression.

Remember, responsible wildlife watching is essential to protect and preserve these precious species and their habitats. Respect the animals’ space, adhere to local guidelines, and always prioritize the well-being of the wildlife above all else.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland Travel FAQ 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Do I need insurance for traveling to Scotland?

YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!

Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.

Do I need a car for visiting Scotland?

YES – If you’re wanting to explore Scotland fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the best sights and on your own timetable

I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Scotland

How to book accommodation in Scotland?

For hotels I recommend

For apartments and cottages check out VRBO

Will my phone work in Scotland?

Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.

If you need a SIM for use in Scotland I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.

What to pack for Scotland

Keep yourself dry be prepared for any weather is my motto for Scotland! A rain jacket and comfy shoes are a must.

See my post about what to pack for Scotland

Do I need midge spray for Scotland?

YES – if you’re traveling in the summer months to any of the west coast, highlands, islands or lochs it’s recommended.

Locals swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft!

If you’re sticking to the cities or traveling in winter, early spring or late fall then you likely won’t need it.

What’s the best guidebook for Scotland?

I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks

Where to get flights for Scotland

Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to Scotland.

Do I need a visa for Scotland?

Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting Scotland as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.

Photo of author

Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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