Scotland is probably Europe’s top wildlife watching destination.
It has an incredible variety of birds, mammals, butterflies and insects. Many of the species here are rare but may be glimpsed in the wild by the keen eyed visitor or viewed at close quarters in one of Scotland's wildlife parks. You will always remember the thrill of watching your first golden eagle soaring high in the sky or coming across your first majestic stag standing proudly on the hillside before leaping away to safety.
Watch out for red deer singly or in herds on the hills especially in the Highlands and Islands. They are most easily seen in the colder months when they descend from the higher slopes to more sheltered ground, climbing higher again as the weather gets warmer. Sometimes in the summer, when out walking, you may surprise one in the woods. The annual red deer rut in the autumn is a spectacular sight.
Birds of prey commonly seen circling over wooded areas are probably buzzards. In the Highlands, a large bird with feathered wing tips circling slowly high over the bens and glens may well be a golden eagle rather than a buzzard.
Red kite have been re-introduced and are doing well, particularly on the Black Isle in the Highlands.
Ospreys, re-introduced around 50 years ago at Loch Garten in the Cairngorms, are now frequently seen on many rivers and lochs in the late spring and early summer and numbers are growing all the time.
The sea eagle, also known as the white tailed eagle, was re-introduced in 1975 and is increasingly seen on the west coast, soaring over the island of Mull and in the Inner Hebrides.
All our recommended B&Bs are operated every day by the owners, who live on site
The elusive and very shy Scottish wild cat is rarely spotted, but is unmistakable with a heavier build than the domestic cat, gingery colouring and ringed markings on its thick tail. With a little local knowledge, and a good deal of patience, you may be rewarded with a sighting of an otter fishing in a river or in sea and freshwater lochs. Pine martens are agile climbers and the largest member of the weasel family. They are forest dwellers but are often attracted to bird tables in rural gardens.
Native red squirrels are less confident and less aggressive than the larger grey squirrels which are gradually taking over the red squirrel territory and displacing them. However, 90% of British red squirrels are to be found in Scotland, predominantly in the Highlands. They can be spotted in mixed woodland and chatter angrily when disturbed.
Around 100,000 grey seals live and breed around Britain’s shores, with Scotland’s rugged coastline and multitude of islands supporting the majority of the population. There are also sizeable colonies of common seals to be seen. It’s almost inevitable that you will obtain sightings of these fascinating mammals lazing on rocks or heads bobbing in the sea.
The Cairngorms National Park is home to the very rare capercaillie, the largest member of the grouse family, and crossbills which are uniquely adapted to feed on pine tree seeds. Late evening or dawn are the best times to visit one of the ‘lekking’ grounds of the black grouse where the males display and try to attract a mate.
Wintertime is when deer can be seen more easily, although it may be a little challenging to spot those species which change into their white winter plumage or fur, such as ptarmigan, stoats or mountain hares.
Fowlsheugh Reserve (RSPB) at Crawton, near Stonehaven. Fantastic seabird cliffs packed with breeding guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes and smaller numbers of fulmars, herring gulls, puffins and shags nests. From May to July boat trips run from Stonehaven to visit the cliffs in the evenings.
Glenlivet Wildlife - Tomnavoulin, Glenlivet. Off road and Landrover safaris, guided walks and hides on the Glenlivet Crown estate in the Cairngorms National Park. Mountain hares, moorland birds, black grouse and red deer.
Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve - West of Aboyne beside the A93 and A97. Within the reserve are the lovely Burn O'Vat and the lochs Kinord and Davan.
Balmoral Castle & Estates - Crathie,near Braemar. Summer holiday home for the Royal family in Scotland. Gardens and grounds open to the public daily from 10am - 5pm from 1 April - 31 July. Fishing and horse riding. Ranger Service with guided walks and luxury land rover safaris.
Macduff Marine Aquarium - Displays of Moray Firth marine life. Feed and dive shows; Gift shop. Open daily 10am - 5pm. Admission charge.
Moray Firth Wildlife Centre - Spey Bay. Moray Firth dolphins exhibition, gift shop & tearoom. Admission Free.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre provides high class viewing facilities through high powered telescopes and binoculars overlooking the Montrose Basin and tidal estuary. A wide variety of wildfowl and waders including pink footed geese, wigeon, eider, curlew, godwit and water rail. Admission charge.
RSPB Loch of Kinnordy - Angus. The lochs and fens of the reserve are surrounded by farmland. It can be one of the best places in Scotland for black-necked grebes. Ospreys visit regularly in the summer.
Corrie Fee in Glen Doll at the head of Glen Clova, is a truly special nature reserve, famed for its rare and beautiful wild alpine and arctic plants. Carved during the ice age, this beautiful glen provides a safe haven not only for plants, but also for the largest number of Ptarmigan per hectare anywhere in the world. The craggy outcrops provide the perfect habitats for Peregrine Falcons and Golden Eagles. Best time to see the alpine plants is between mid June and mid August, but the scenery is stunning all the time.
The island of Eilean Ban sits below the elegant Skye Bridge. It is home to otters, with a hide for viewing these secretive creatures. The lighthouse and cottages (once the home of Gavin Maxwell - author of 'The Ring of Bright Water') have been restored and can be visited. The island has been made 'visitor friendly' by the work of the Born Free Foundation and the Eilean Ban Trust. The Visitor Centre in Kyleakin is open Monday - Saturday from 1 March to 1 October. Boat trips to Eilean Ban can be arranged from there with a ranger.
Elgol, Isle of Skye - Takes you to world famous Loch Coruisk and the seals in the heart of the spectacular Cuillin mountains. Daily - April to October. Booking essential.
Armadale Pier, Sleat, Isle of Skye - Three hour whale spotting trips and two hour adventures.
Glass bottomed boat trips from Kyle of Lochalsh. Beautiful kelp forests, fish, seals, otters, dolphins, whales and occasionally sharks. Easter to October.
Unique guided cruises from Glenfinnan on the Road to the Isles to see wildlife on the stunning sheltered waters of Loch Shiel. Spot golden eagles, red deer and black-throated divers. Daily. Easter to October. Booking advisable.
Fort William Pier - Enjoy the Highland splendour and wildlife of Loch Linnhe, with magnificent views of Ben Nevis.
The Harbour, Arisaig - Explore the enchanting islands of Eigg, Muck and Rum. Regular sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises, puffins and seals. May to September.
Wildlife safaris from Fort William in the wilderness areas of Lochaber, including Glengarry, Knoydart and Loch Hourn. Golden eagles, red deer, otters and dolphins.
(National Trust for Scotland). Breathtaking scenery, deer enclosure, visitor centre and Ranger service.
Daily cruises in the summer season from Gairloch to spot whales, porpoises, sharks and dolphins as well as sea birds. The 2 boat operators are Gairloch Marine Life Centre and Hebridean Whale Cruises.
Boat trips from Ullapool. Daily cruises to the Summer Isles from May to September. Trips last 4 hours and include time ashore on one of the islands, giving visitors a chance to explore. Two-hour wildlife cruises to the Isle Martin bird sanctuary and seal islands.
Boat trips from Kylesku old ferry pier down Loch Glencoull to see Eas-coul-aulin falls - the highest waterfall in Britain. See seals (and pups when born) and other wildlife like golden eagle and seabirds. All sailings are subject to weather conditions.
Main Street, Lochinver - See the "Story of Assynt" and watch the nest activity of Grey Herons from nearby Culag Wood on large monitors in the Centre. There is an RSPB representative on hand to answer queries and also take visitors on a guided walk to the heronry. The Visitor Centre is also the base for the local Ranger service and they are on hand to give guidance about the local wildlife activity. The Rangers conduct a programme of guided walks throughout the summer.
Bird-watching in Orkney. With so many habitats in a relatively small area you can experience a vast selection of flora and fauna. RSPB has over 8000 hectares of reserves in Orkney, ranging from sea cliffs to wetlands, maritime heaths to moorlands. Birds resident or recorded include hen harrier, red-throated diver, guillemot, razorbill, arctic tern, shag, puffin, corncrake, peregrine, merlin, whimbrel, sedge warbler, twites, reed bunting, kestrel, short eared owl, teal, widgeon, curlew but there are many, many more.
See birds and seals at close quarters.
Experience the vastness of Scotland's peatlands in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland. Delightful drive along river Halladale for 14 miles to Forsinard to access guided walks and bog pool trail. Visitor Centre.
The sea inlet on which Inverness stands is one of only two places in the UK where bottle-nosed dolphins can be seen. There are trips from Inverness and Cromarty taking visitors out into the Firth where the dolphins will frequently follow the small boat. Other viewing spots are the shore at the narrows between Chanonry Point on the Black Isle to the north of Inverness and Fort George to the east. Sometimes they can be seen from the shoreline just under the Kessock Bridge which spans the Moray Firth. The best times are when the tide is flowing strongly and when the sun is out - they seem to enjoy jumping out of the water when the sun shines!
Red kites were re-introduced to this area and can often be seen by car drivers on the A9 between the Kessock Bridge and Tore roundabout. At the Tourist Information centre on the north-bound A9, just across the Kessock Bridge, there is a hut relaying CCTV footage from a kite nest nearby.
Situated 16 miles (25 km) south-west of Inverness. The Loch is about 2 miles long and the eastern end forms part of the RSPB nature reserve. This is the best site in Britain to guarantee views of Slavonian grebes with their flamboyant breeding colours. Ospreys visit almost daily during their season and red-throated divers, goosanders and other waterfowl can be expected. Passerines include whinchats, redpolls, wheatears and the occasional ring ouzel. You may even see short-eared owls and hen harriers.
Around Upper Findhorn, Coignafearn, near Tomatin - this is very much golden eagle country but other species you may see include peregrines, merlins, kestrels and sparrowhawks. Dippers and grey wagtails are found along the burn and lapwings and oystercatchers nest in the meadows near the river. Ring ouzels, wheatears, meadow pipits and the distinctive stonechat are all found here. Occasionally red grouse may be seen or heard. As a bonus you can usually see large herds of red deer browsing on the hill.
Situated at Kincraig, by Kingussie. Discover Scotland's wildlife and endangered animals of the world's mountain and tundra regions. Facilities include coffee shop, children's trail, free audio tape, daily warden talks etc. Large drive-through reserve with red deer, Highland cattle, bison, wild horses. Walk to visit wolves, lynx, otters, Arctic fox and Amur tigers. Admission charge. Open every day (weather permitting in winter).
A National Nature Reserve, this is one of the most important wetlands in Europe. In spring lapwings, redshanks and curlews nest here. In winter, the marshes flood, providing roosting and feeding for flocks of whooper swans and greylag geese. Organised day and evening events from April - August. Open at all times.
Tailormade wildlife watching experiences for everyone. Why not visit Speyside Wildlife's evening mammal watching hide on the Rothiemurchus Estate, in the Cairngorms National Park, for up close and personal views of Pine Marten, Badger, Red Deer, Roe Deer and more! Or, if you've a day or two in the Highlands, take a bird watching day trip with one of Speyside Wildlife's professional guides, to discover the birds and mammals of the mountains, rivers, forests and moors. Capercaillie, Black and Red Grouse, Osprey, Golden Eagle, Red and Black-throated Diver, Scottish Crossbill, Ptarmigan and Dotterel, can all be seen within the Cairngorms National Park.
Abernethy Forest, by Aviemore. A visit here is a must. You can see an osprey nest from the Osprey Centre, and a pair of birds is normally resident between April and August. Reserve trails are through the pine forest, with crested tits, crossbills and red squirrels. Reserve open at all times. Osprey Centre open daily 10am - 6pm from late April to end of August only.
Lerrocks Farm - Argaty near Doune. Red Kites are back in central Scotland after 130 years. Argaty is the perfect place to observe the spectacle of the kites' flying acrobatics. Tel: 01786 841373. Open all year - visits to be booked in advance. The Lerrock Farm Red Kite project is a partnership with RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve (Scottish Wildlife Trust) near Dunkeld. Loch of the Lowes Visitor Centre provides unrivalled viewing opportunities of breeding ospreys. The nest is situated just 150 metres from the observation hide. Admission charge.
Atholl Estates - Blair Atholl. Discover the wildlife of one of Scotland's largest and most iconic estates during a hill tour with a game-keeper or landscape tour with a ranger.
Highland Safaris - Dull, Aberfeldy. Landrover safari company offering wildlife safaris into the mountains of Highland Perthshire. Safari Lodge with farm shop and café.
RSPB Vane Farm. Part of the loch Leven National Nature Reserve. The visitor centre and observation room overlook the loch. In winter, see greylag and pink footed geese, redshanks, snipe, lapwings and ducks. During summer spot willow warblers, tree pipits and great spotted woodpeckers. Open at all times. Visitor centre open daily 10am to 5pm.
Sea Fari Adventures - Easdale Harbour Isle of Seil near Oban. Exhilarating marine excursions aboard a high speed, inflatable boat including seeing the Corryvreckan whirlpool. Open all year weather permitting.
Scottish Sealife Sanctuary - Barcaldine, Connel near Oban. Resident seals and otters, hourly talks and feeding demonstrations, marine hospital. Open all year.
The Isle of Mull has an exciting and wide range of wildlife both on land and in the sea. Here are just a few operators offering tours and boat trips:
Boat trips from Mull or Iona will also take you to the spectacular uninhabited island of Staffa and the Treshnish Isles which are home to thousands of sea birds, including puffins.
There are excellent Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Reserves at Inversnaid on the shores of Loch Lomond, the Isle of Coll and Loch Gruinart and The Oa, on Islay. If you're visiting Coll or Islay also keep a close watch for their most elusive resident bird - the corncrake.
Since 2009, the responsible reintroduction of Beavers has been taking place in the Knapdale Forest in Argyll. Extinct for over 400 years, four beaver families have now successfully established themselves in this unique project. You can visit the forest and see beaver lodges and activity, as well as the possibility of catching sight of the only Beavers in the UK.
Anstruther Pleasure Trips. The Isle of May is a wildlife watcher's paradise. View large colonies of puffins, eiders, guillemots, razorbills and many other seabirds and seals in their natural habitat.
Scottish Deer Centre - Bow of Fife by Cupar. Encounter a stag or see European wolves. Many species of deer, falconry displays, Bird of Prey Centre, Coffee shop. Open all year. Admission charge.
Scotland’s National Aquarium is situated under the most famous bridge in Scotland, The Forth Rail Bridge. Here you can see Europe’s largest collection of sharks, whilst walking through one of the longest underwater tunnels in the world.
Aberlady Bird Reserve. On the Firth of Forth. Britain's first Local Nature Reserve created in 1952. Coastal estuary site with many species of wildfowl and waders. Open all year.
John Muir Country Park. Dunbar. Covers some of East Lothian's most spectacular coastline - a haven for wildlife. Open all year.
Scottish Seabird Centre - The Harbour, North Berwick. Open 10am to 6pm summer, 10am to 4pm winter. Exhibitions, boat trips and cameras showing the birds on the Bass Rock which sits just offshore in the Firth of Forth.
The Bass Rock - The largest number of visitors to North Berwick fly in every year to set up home on the four islands of Bass Rock, Craigleith, Lamb and Fidra. Around 100,000 sea birds nest on these islands with the largest colony on the Bass Rock, which has 80,000 occupied nest sites. This includes the largest gannet colony in the northern hemisphere. Boat trips available from either side of the Firth.
National Parks all over the world owe their very existence to famous Scottish naturalist John Muir. Born in Dunbar, Muirs family emigrated to America when he was 11, by which time he had already developed his love of nature. Muir would go on to establish the first National park in the world at Yosemite. You can visit Muirs birthplace in Dunbar and then explore the 8 mile stretch of countryside which so inspired him and has now been dedicated to his memory.
We would normally only focus on the ‘wild’ wildlife, but the Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo have made it onto our list as it is virtually impossible to see them anywhere in the wild. Since arriving in 2011, the two Giant Pandas have been the star attraction, fascinating visitors from home and abroad. They are so popular that It is essential that you pre book tickets to guarantee that you will see them.
Scotland can boast lots of firsts, but who would have thought that whatever the weather, Scotland can also boast the world’s longest running indoor Butterfly house! This tropical rainforest is home to hundreds of butterflies, moths and other insects as well as all sorts of other beasties. If you are so inclined, there are daily animal handling sessions. Open all year round
RSPB Lochwinnoch - Renfrewshire. This is one of the few remaining wetlands in west Scotland. From the hides and visitor centre you can view the marshland and loch. In winter you may see whooper swans, greylag geese and goosanders. In spring, great crested grebes and lapwings display. Open at all times. Visitor Centre open daily 10am- 5pm.
Falls of Clyde Wildlife Reserve (Scottish Wildlife Trust). Located within the World Heritage Site of New Lanark and at the gateway to the Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve. More than 100 bird species, including unsurpassed views of nesting peregrine falcons (March to June). Seasonal events include 'Badger Watches'.
World of Wings Birds of Prey Centre at Luggiebank, near Cumbernauld. The largest collection of birds of prey in Scotland including eagles, vultures, hawks, falcons, owls, kites and exotic species.
For over a decade now, the steep gorges leading between the Falls of Clyde have been home to a breeding pair of Peregrine Falcons. So precious are these birds that round the clock CCTV is in place to protect them, albeit their precarious cliff edge ensure maximum difficult for those that would do them harm! The position of the nest on one side of the gorge and the RSPB hide on the other, means that you can get closer to these peregrines than any other site in the UK. Best times to visit April – June during nest building and chick rearing.
The former steel town of Motherwell is the last place you would expect to find an RSPB nature reserve, but here, in the marshland around the River Clyde, is a terrific site. Over 170 different species of bird have been recorded on this site, some regular local species, others just stopping on their way to somewhere more exotic. Open all year round
This spectacular rock lying off the Ayrshire coast, is famously home to a colony of 40,000 gannets. Fighting for space on the rock are guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes. You can’t land on the Island but you can take a boat trip around it weather permitting.
The Firth of Clyde, with its warmer waters is the ideal place to see Seals, Basking Sharks, Whales Dolphins and a huge variety of marine birds. Take a Rigid boat tour from the seaside town of Largs out to the Cumbrae Isles and the Sound of Bute.
Glenlochar, on the west shore of Loch Ken. 3 mile trail through woodland and farmland. Goose viewing platform over Loch Ken and main goose feeding areas. Open at all times.
The farmland and mudflats on the Solway shore are full of birds in winter, including barnacle geese, pink footed geese, pintails and birds of prey. In spring, see lapwings, curlew and snipe display on the wet meadows and marsh.
This is the most southerly point in Scotland. Excellent views from the cliffs over the Solway Firth and Irish Sea to the Isle of Man. Thousands of breeding seabirds. Best time to visit is April to July. Open at all times.
Bowhill Country Park - Situated in the ancient Ettrick forest near Selkirk and home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. Covers upland, moorland and water habitats. Woodland and lochside trails and Ranger led walks.
Philiphaugh Estate & Salmon Viewing Centre near Selkirk. Provides a fish-eye view of the river from the perspective of the Atlantic salmon. Live and archive underwater camera footage. Interactive displays. Best time to see salmon leaping is August to November. Restaurant, estate walks to spot badger, foxes, roe deer, bats weasels, owls and lots more.
The spectacular coastline at St Abbs has been formed by the power of volcanoes and the force of the stormy seas. This has created a dramatic piece of coast which provides something interesting to see at all times of the year…nesting birds in early summer, wild flowers in high summer, butterflies in August and of course a stream of migrating birds from Autumn to Spring. The area is managed by the National Trust for Scotland who provide guided walks from their Nature centre at Northfield Farm. Open all year.