Wildlife of Scotland
It is said that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. After spending over 28 years of my life living in Scotland, it took moving to the other side of the world to really appreciate some of my homeland’s special qualities. As brimming as it is with beautiful scenery, it is also full of wildlife, both urban and rural. Over the last few years I have become a bit of a bird enthusiast, and I’ve found myself paying more attention to the feathered creatures that flit about around me. Whenever I go abroad, I’m very conscious of the wildlife that lives in that foreign land, and now when I go back to Scotland, I see the wealth of wildlife with fresh eyes. From cities to lochs, and mountains to the coast, there is something to spot everywhere. Special mention goes to the otter, red fox, red squirrel, hedgehog, minke whale, harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphin, basking shark, white-tailed sea eagle, buzzard, kestrel and osprey which I have had the joy of seeing but haven’t been able to photograph.
There’s only 1 herd of reindeer in the whole of the UK and they roam the mountain tops near Cairngorm, many of them coming down daily to hand-feed from visitors.
The ‘Monarch of the Glen’, the male deer in full antlers and rutting mode is a sight (and sound) to behold. Spotted in the mountains and moors.
The shy and solitary member of the deer family. Much harder to spot than the other deer species. This one was spotted in Caithness.
An introduced species that has played a major part in the decline of the native red squirrel, these guys are a common sighting in parks and gardens, and are easy to spot without even leaving the city.
Seen as a pest by some, rabbits are often easy to spot in farmland and open fields.
From a distance, the common and grey seal can look very similar. Usually spotted hauled out onto rocks up the west coast or on the islands.
Newburgh beach north of Aberdeen offers near guaranteed sightings of these seals. They usually haul out on the protected north side of the Ythan river there, and can also be seen swimming in the river itself watching the beach goers and dogs go by.
A seasonal visitor to Scottish waters, they can be spotted for a very short time in the waters around the islands of the west coast.
Feeding pods can be spotted around the islands off the west coast if you are lucky.
These deep sea feeders are my favourite species of dolphin. They can be spotted off the west coast if you are lucky.
These are commonly spotted garden and pasture birds and are widely spread across the country.
The colourful male is easy to spot in gardens and green spaces. The female blends in more and is less distinctive, but the species is well spread across the country.
Another common visitor to gardens and green spaces. This juvenile was trying to grab the attention of its parents.
This is the porky version of the common run-of-the-mill street pigeon that plagues city centres. Although they will occasionally be seen amongst their scrawny city-dwelling cousins, they are more usually seen in the suburbs or near woods.
The recognisable robin redbreast that adorns many a Christmas card is best spotted in gardens.
A common and easily spotted bird in both urban and rural areas. These birds often flock together in mesmerising murmurations in the evening as they prepare to roost in large groups.
Another common and easily spotted garden bird.
These are the birds that I fondly remember from my childhood, singing away in the trees behind my parent’s house. They have a beautiful song, and are best spotted in areas with trees, but this includes many public green spaces and gardens.
One of the county’s most diversely spread birds, they don’t seem fussy with their habitat and can be spotted in both urban and rural areas either singly or in groups. They are adaptable and have a varied diet, and are also known to be intelligent.
Less spotted than the more common and similar-looking swift, these birds love to fly over high-insect zones such as farmland and waterways. They are exceedingly agile on the wing and are amazing to watch in action. It is also rare to see them on the ground and uncommon to see them perching as most of their life is spent on the wing.
This is a bird I never knew existed until I was going through my photos after my most recent trip home and wondered what it was. I’m certainly not aware that I have ever seen one before. This colourful male was spotted near the coast on Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands.
Anyone who has ever fed bread to a duck in a city park in Europe and North America has likely been feeding these guys. They are everywhere, and have been introduced to many other countries outwith their original range.
Another common occupant of urban waterways as well as coastal estuaries. I grew up knowing nothing but white swans, and remember a news story from my childhood about a black swan that appeared in the river in the town of Ayr south of where I lived. There is something very majestic about these creatures, although they can be very vicious if you get too close, especially when they have youngsters.
A lover of dampness, these birds are best spotted around marshes, meadows and lakes. Despite its name, its not as common as it used to be.
It is usually their cry that draws your attention to these birds. Although they are wading birds, they are best spotted on farmland and cultivated pastures. Unfortunately, population numbers are showing a decline and they are classified as a threatened species.
Great Grey Shrike
I photographed this bird but didn’t know what it was at the time. Their preferred habitat is grassland with shrubbery, and it is uncommon to spot them. This particular bird was spotted near the coast next to some open farmland in summer time which is unseasonal as they usually migrate to breed elsewhere.
Native to Asia, the pheasant was introduced historically as a game bird. Many a painting adorning Scottish castles and mansions will depict dead pheasants hanging in a kitchen or off the arm of a shooter. Even today, these birds are still popular to shoot during the right season. To shoot them with a camera, they tend to be found in the countryside where they like to dash out in front of cars on rural back roads, and are occasionally spotted when out hiking in the glens.
Another bird that is still shot in Scotland during the beating season. They are very difficult to spot, hiding in amongst the heather of the open moorland in the highlands and some of the islands. It is easier to spot them on a bottle of whisky where their image has had a worldwide audience thanks to the Famous Grouse brand. I came very close to standing on this little grouse chick that was easy to overlook and refused to move when I got close. I’ve never seen an adult in the wild.
Eurasian Oyster Catcher
With their distinctive call, they can be the rowdy accompaniment to any beach walk and are one of many bird species that wander around the tidal zone looking for a meal.
These pretty little birds are another common sighting at the beach, feeding in the tidal zone, and often seen in small groups.
These migratory birds are only seen in the summer months but are beach goers that forage in the tidal zone, and are more solitary in their habits than the ringed plover who they share a habitat with.
The largest wading bird in Europe, the curlew is sadly a threatened species. Usually seen on their own, they can be spotted either on the shoreline or inland.
One of many similar looking shore birds seen around the tidal zone.
These large ducks are sea-dwellers, living along coastlines of Europe and North America. They are an easy spot in Scotland due to the distinctive colouration of the male and their size.
This migratory diving duck breeds in Scotland, and this particular female was spotted in Loch Lomond cruising near the shore.
A commonly spotted gull near the coastline.
As the name suggests, these are a common sighting, mainly on the coastline but can be spotted in cities and farmland. They are bigger than the black-headed gull but smaller than the black-backed gull.
The big bully of the gull world, there is no shortage of these gulls around Scotland and they will happily scavenge in urban zones as much as the coastline.
These birds are wanderers of the sea, only coming to shore for the sake of breeding. They are a loud and common sighting along many coastlines in the summer months.
Also known as Bonxie, these large birds are the robbers of the bird world. Why obtain your own fish when you can steal from another? They can be spotted at rest on land or more commonly seen swooping and mobbing at other sea birds in the air or on cliffs.
Shags and cormorants are terms used differently for different birds within the cormorant family. They are best spotted on rocks where they like to spread their wings wide to dry. This nest with juveniles was on Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands, but they are widespread along the Scottish coastline.
This is one of my favourite sea birds and are most impressive when seen diving at great speeds from the air to catch fish. A flock of diving gannets can be a good way to find feeding whales and dolphins as they will often track feeding pods where the fish are pushed nearer the surface.
One of Scotland’s most special birds. Unfortunately their numbers are in decline as they are selective feeders. I remember seeing great flocks of these when I was younger, and now they are in small clusters. Despite their petite size, they spend most of the year at sea, returning to land only to breed where they nest in burrows. The cliffs on the west coast of Mainland Orkney, Faraid Head in Sutherland, and the Isle of Staffa are recommended places to spot them in the summer months.
A similar size to the puffin, though much more populous, and often seen hanging around in the same places.
Another cliff-loving sea bird, they are often seen milling around near guillemots.
OTHER – THE OFTEN OVERLOOKED INSECTS, AMPHIBIANS AND FISH
This pretty moth was spotted amongst the dunes on the Aberdeenshire coast.
One of many reasons to watch where you tread. This guy was crossing the hiking path on the West Highland Way.
A pretty little dragonfly, their colour is mesmerising. Spotted near a loch in Sutherland.
A beautiful and large dragonfly, I spotted this one whilst out hiking in Cairngorm National Park, although they are more widespread in western Scotland.
Slugs and snails are a gardener’s pest but I like snails, and think the ground-dwelling creatures of the world are under-appreciated. This group of snails were hanging out on a post in Barra, in the Outer Hebrides.
The ugly slug of the slug world.
The not-so-ugly slug of the slug world.
The famously wet climate means amphibians can find plenty of habitat to choose from in Scotland. Unfortunately several species are on the decline due to predation, disease and habitat destruction. This frog came into a mountain bothy I was staying in whilst out hiking in the Cairngorm National Park.
One of many crabs that can be spotted on Scottish beaches. This one was at Faraid Head in Sutherland.
Also known as the mola, this is the heaviest boned fish in the world. It is really rare to spot these in Scottish waters, but they occasionally pop up due to the ocean currents. I was exceedingly lucky to spot this impressive fish off the coast near Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, many years ago.
One of the more common jellyfish in Scottish waters.
Another jellyfish in Scottish waters. To some people, jellyfish are horrible creatures, something to fear. Whilst I don’t want to swim amongst them, I certainly like looking at them move around the water.
Many thanks for this post as we’ve come across many of the birds you describe but cannot name any due to lack of knowledge. And it couldn’t have been easy photographing them!
My most memorable experience was listening to a Song Thrush for the 1st time while on a Torridon hike. There was no one else around and the beautiful song reverberated in the valley, I just sat down for a while to listen to it. Residents of Scotland are truly lucky!
I’ve also got photos for some birds I just have no idea what they are, even using ID guides.
The song of the Song Thrush brings back so many childhood memories for me. Hopefully you’ll enjoy many more of Scotland’s creatures on your wanderings.
What a fabulous post! I had no idea there was so much diversity in wildlife in Scotland. I love puffins and saw them in Iceland. I would love to see a reindeer! Great post!
Thanks. There’s so much to see on the land, in the sea and in the air in Scotland, and I don’t have photos for everything I’ve seen there. If you don’t make it to northern Scandinavia, Scotland is a good bet for reindeer as some of the herd voluntarily come off the mountain daily to get hand fed.
I am really wanting to go to Scotland on a trek. I just don’t know when I will get there. I heard the Highland trek is nice. Would you see lots of animals there or do you have to move around?
I’m assuming you mean the West Highland Way? I’ve recently posted on that hike if you look on my blog. You’ll see lots of birds and red deer only if you’re lucky. Creatures like otters and seals and dolphins are all best spotted around the coast (west and north mainly) and bird life is at a premium in summer along the coast and cliffs. Birds of prey are over farmland with the exception of osprey and sea eagles which feed on fish and live near lochs (lakes). Whales are best spotted on organised boat trips.
Thanks! Yes that is the name. I will check it out. Thanks again!
Thank you. Hope you get to see some of them for yourself.
Puffins are definitively my favourite Scottish animal 🙂
I love puffins too. Last year was the first time since my childhood that I had seen any. Strangely, I’ve really missed squirrels and foxes since moving to New Zealand. Took them for granted as they are both common around where my parents live.
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