As the home to over 90,000 species, Scotland is renowned as a wildlife destination. From highland cows to red deer, otters to basking sharks, wildcats to wild boars – the diversity is truly outstanding. To celebrate World Wildlife Day which falls on March 3rd, we’re highlighting some of the most amazing species you’ll find in the Scottish wildlife.
Once found all across Britain, the Scottish wild cat is now only, but rarely, found in the Scottish Highlands. Scottish Wildcats are nocturnal animals who like to avoid human beings at all costs, so it’s very difficult for anyone to ever spot one. The most likely time anyone would to spot a wildcat would be during the winter, when they are the most active in search for food. Although they look very similar to a large tabby cat, wildcats can be identified by their thick black tails and are usually heavier built. Sadly, the Scottish wildcat is now one of the most endangered animals in Scotland, threatened by disease and accidental persecution.
Unlike Scottish wildcats, red squirrels are a bit easier to spot because they are active all year round. Although found all across the UK, around 75% of red squirrels live in Scotland’s woodlands, parks and gardens, mainly in the Highlands and Dumfries & Galloway. Red squirrels can be identified by their red to rusty coloured fur (hence the name), ear tuffs and long bushy tails. There are many red squirrel conservation organisations across the UK, because unfortunately, this species also faces many threats, particularly from grey squirrels, which carry a disease known to kill red squirrels.
Found in pinewoods of Scotland, Capercaillie is Scotland’s largest and rarest grouse species. Capercaillies have had a turbulent past, having been exterminated in Scotland in 1785, reintroduced during the 19th century, and are now once again endangered. Male capercaillie tend to be grey in colour, with reddish-brown wings with a white patch on the shoulder. Females, on the other hand, tend to have brown plumage with striations all over the body and a reddish-brown patch on the breast.
During the 1950s and 1970s, otters became endangered in England and Wales due to pollution of waterways, but they survived in Scotland’s clean bodies of water in the north and west and have since flourished. There are around 8000 of the water creatures in Scotland and a growing number in England and Wales again. Otters are likely to be spotted along seashores and on the banks of rivers, lochs and burns, although they are well camouflaged when ashore. Anyone who plans to go otter spotting are warned to be patient and quiet as they are wary creatures and easily distributed.
Puffins are oceanic birds commonly found in cliff top colonies on Scottish Islands. The largest colony is found on St Kilda, the small Scottish Island in the North Atlantic Ocean. Puffins are often known as the ‘clowns’ of the coast because of their brightly coloured bills, bumpy landings and waddling walk – all features which make them instantly recognisable. This sea bird can be spotted in Scotland from March to August, to care for their young. During the rest of the year, they migrate to the North Atlantic and Artic Ocean to collect food.
The Highland cow is perhaps one of Scotland’s most loved creatures. One may say that it’s the national animal of Scotland! Highland cows are actually the oldest registered breed of cows in the world. They are cute creatures and can be recognised by their rusty coloured long hair and distinctive long horns. It’s not rare to come across a highland cow, in fact, they can be seen daily when visiting Pollok Country Park in Glasgow or Swanston Farm near Edinburgh. Highland cows are also often seen freely roaming the countryside in the north of Scotland and along the North Coast 500.
Not many sharks can be spotted in Scotland, unless it’s a basking! Basking sharks are commonly found in Argyll and there has been a huge spike in sightings off the west coast of Scotland in recent years. They tend to appear in Scotland during the summer months to feed and return to warmer waters during the colder months. It’s quite unlikely to spot a basking shark from ashore, but there are many tour operators who arrange boat trips specifically for basking shark spotting. There are even some trips where you can dive, swim and snorkel alongside them, as they are not considered a danger to divers.
Although hunted to extinction around 400 years ago, wild boar was reintroduced to the Highlands in 2009, mainly living in farms. As part of the pig family, wild boars communicate through grunts and squeals but their dark grey to black or brown fur distinguishes them from other types of pigs. It’s rare to see wild boar roaming freely in Scotland, but if anyone was to come by one roaming freely, they are advised to keep their distance. If approached or provoked, wild boars can be vicious and have attacked both humans and other animals.
Unlike many other species found in Scotland, the red deer population is thriving. It’s thought that the population doubled in the 50 years leading up to 2018, with more than half found in Scotland. Red deer can be found grazing on grasses and heathers mostly in the north of Scotland. These majestic creatures are recognised by their russet-brown colouring. Only male deer, known as ‘stags’, have huge, branching antlers which can weigh as much as 15kg.
An osprey is a large-fish eating bird of prey, with a white head and yellow eyes. Due to their diet which consists of 99% fish, Ospreys are also known as a sea hawks, river hawks and fish hawks. With special transparent eyelids that protects their eyes underwater, it’s no surprise that ospreys are perfectly adapted to hunting fish. Although similar in appearance, female ospreys differ from males as they are up to 20% larger, with a wingspan that can reach around 7-feet across. These magnificent birds are famously found at the Osprey Centre at the Loch Garten Reserve in the Abernethy Forest in the Scottish Highlands.
Best of Scotland Holidays arrange different tours in Scotland which allow visitors to explore the magnificent Scottish wildlife, whether it’s in the Highlands or Islands. You can check out our Highland Wildlife Tour package and sample itinerary here, or see our Shetland Wildlife Trail package and sample itinerary here.