Scotland is renowned for its abundant wildlife and startlingly beautiful scenery, supporting an environment that’s rich with a diverse collection of land and sea creatures. From the dignity of its herds of deer to the lively pine martens, spotting any of these creatures in their natural habitat is a real coup.
Some of the most interesting native Scottish animals are also the most elusive. Check out our list of lesser spotted wildlife in Scotland, from the endangered to the iconic.
Scotland is home to an impressive number of bottlenose dolphin pods that can be spotted off the coast. A popular location for sightings is Cromarty Point, a jutting headland that allows ships to access Cromarty Bay’s deep waters. For a good chance of seeing a specimen in the wild, the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay is a fantastic family friendly attraction.
Snakes are uncommon in the British Isles but we do have the native adder. The wooded or rocky areas in remote areas of rural Scotland are preferred habitats for these low-profile reptiles. Adders are venomous and can give you a nasty bite, but occurrences of such encounters are rare. Snakes won't strike unless they’ve been stepped on; keep an eye out for them curled up in the sun from April to September. The rest of the year is spent hibernating underground.
The Golden Eagle is a majestic bird of prey that’s easy to spot thanks to its two metre wing span. It is generally found in open spaces rather than heavy undergrowth. Typically, these birds are loners, choosing to nest as far from civilisation as possible.
Golden eagles thrive in Scotland where they don't have any natural predators, and they feed on small mammals, snakes and grouse. They are easily recognisable by the golden feathers on their head and necks.
The wild waters around Scotland's northwest coastline are considered the top destination for whale-watching in the UK. Dedicated whale spotting trips cruise the ocean off the Isle of Skye on the lookout for pods of migrating cetaceans, although it's also possible to spot them from the shoreline on a good day. The warm currents of the Gulf Stream flows past the western edge of these pretty islands, bringing an abundance of both native and exotic wildlife close to shore.
Closely resembling a domestic tortoise shell cat, the Scottish Wildcat is about as far removed from a tame tabby as you can get. Visible differences include a distinctly bushy tail marked by dark or black rings and a thicker coat. They also tend to be a little larger than their domesticated cousins. Wildcats are extremely rare; it’s estimated there are fewer than 100 left in the wild. Conservation projects are under way to help preserve them.
Stag and Deer
Scotland’s stag and deer are symbolic of the countries wild landscape. At certain times of the year, the mating season begins. Known as ‘rutting’, stags compete for the does by fighting each other off with their antlers. For the best chance of seeing them in the wild, spend some time in the much-photographed Rannoch Moor or the area around Glencoe. You can also find relatively high numbers in the Cairngorms.
The Highland Cow is most certainly a unique breed of cattle, covered almost head to hoof in a long shaggy coat, also characterised by thick horns protruding from their heads. These are hardy animals, able to withstand torrential rain and powerful winds. There are almost no herds left to roam across Scotland so it’s hard to find a genuine Highland Cow or ‘coo’ in the wild.
Other lesser spotted native Scottish animals
We’ve only chosen a handful of our most popular native Scottish animals but there are plenty more to see if you know where to look. From five species of bats that call Scotland home and families of beavers recently re-introduced in the wild, to the endangered red squirrel whose numbers are thankfully thriving, dedicated wildlife groups are ensuring the longevity of some of our most iconic inhabitants. The pine marten was also reintroduced to remote areas of the Highlands and are seen to be thriving. There are some nature lovers who would even include the Loch Ness Monster on this list.