25 Wild Animals in Scotland

Without a doubt, Scotland is one of the world’s most underrated destinations for spotting beasts, birds, and all sorts of Scottish animals.

The nation is home to a massive (and massively surprising!) amount of wildlife, with over 90,000 species living on its land.

So in this article, we’ve brought you a big fat list of all the wild animals you can find in Scotland. We’ve covered land mammals, sea animals, birds, unusual creatures, and everything in between.

(Don’t worry, I’ve only included the best ones, not all 90,000).

So get your binoculars, bring a bag of feed, and get prepped for an immersive Scottish safari. Here we go!

Land Animals in Scotland

1. Red Squirrels

A wild Red Squirrel eating nuts spotted in Scotland
A wild Red Squirrel eating nuts spotted in Scotland

One of the UK’s best-loved animals, red squirrels are notoriously hard to spot (partially because the pesky little gray squirrel came over to the UK, ate all the red squirrel’s food, and gave them fatal diseases).

But in Scotland, you can find them, if you know where to look.

Though the population has massively declined, there are still around 120,000 of the critters in Scotland (that’s approximately 75% of all the UK’s red squirrels). You’re most likely to find them in heavily-forested areas, and especially in Arran, Dumfries and Galloway, and Glen Affric.

Fun fact: because the Scottish government is trying to save the red squirrel, there might be way more of the cute little creatures dotted throughout Scotland in the future.

2. Red Deer

Red-deer stag in Scotland
Red-deer stag walking in the Cairngorms of Scotland

From one cute red animal to another.

Scotland’s red deer are one of my favorite things about the nation. They’re surprisingly easy to see, and (unlike some of the animals on this list) you can often stumble upon them by mistake.

You usually spot Scotland’s red deer on the edge of woodland (so any woods are a good bet), but some of the best locations are Arran (close to Lochranza), Glen Affric, and Galloway Forest Park.

Though the red deer is the nation’s largest breed, Scotland is also home to roe deer, fallow deer, and sika deer. Some of Scotland’s roe deer even hang out in and around the nation’s cities, like little hipster suburbanites.

3. Badgers

A Wild Badger in Scotland
A wild badger in Scotland

Even though badgers are pretty common throughout lots of Scotland, they’re pretty hard to spot. That’s because they’re super shy, they’re largely nocturnal, and they live in underground tunnels.

If you want to see some, head to one of Scotland’s two public hides. One is in the village of New Lanark (close to Glasgow), while the other is in Boat of Garten (in the Cairngorms).

The best time to spot them is in late spring and early summer, when all the newly-born badgers venture out into the big wide world for the very first time.

Fun fact: badgers are Britain’s biggest carnivore. They mainly feed on worms (sometimes eating hundreds a night!), but they also munch on birds’ eggs, other small mammals, and sometimes even hedgehogs.

4. Highland Cows

A brown highlander cow relaxing on the heather in Scotland
A brown highlander cow relaxing on the heather in Scotland

Alright, I know these ones aren’t wild, but they’re absolutely iconic.

Cute, inquisitive and shaggy-haired, they’re one of Scotland’s most popular sights, so make sure you see some. If you’re exploring remote areas north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, you’ll probably wind up meeting a Highland Cow, so don’t worry about visiting a specific location.

(That said, if you don’t trust your reliable ol’ friend Paul, and you want explore particular cow-spotting places, here’s a brilliant resource).

Unlike lots of cows, they’re famously peaceful and placid. So pat one on the head, make friends, and have a nice little chat with your new cow buddy.

In person, they’re even cuter and more loveable than you’d expect—don’t be surprised if you wind up trying to bundle one into your trunk.

5. Scottish Wildcats

A Scottish wildcat walking along a log
A Scottish wildcat walking along a log

Native to Scotland, these bulky felines are pretty unique and unusual. They look a lot like standard house cats, except they’re often a lot bigger (the largest are around twice as big as your average house cat). And they’re probably not as friendly.

They’re the rarest wild mammal in Great Britain, with only between 100 and 300 of the little beasts left.

Here’s a really cool map of all the recent sightings:

But because they’re sneaky and shy, you’ll be massively lucky to see one. Unlike most animals on this list, Scottish wildcats pretty much always live alone (unless when breeding), which makes them even harder to find.

Fun fact: in recent years, there’s been lots of interbreeding between wildcats and domestic cats (sometimes intentionally, and sometimes by chance). Because of that, it’s sometimes hard to know whether a Scottish wildcat is really a Scottish wildcat, or actually some form of strange hybrid.

6. Pine Martens

A Scottish Pine Marten Hunting in the Woods
A Scottish Pine marten hunting in the woods

Next up, hailing from the weasel family, we have Scotland’s pine martens.

Although Scotland was once home to way more of the critters, it’s estimated that only around 3,700 of them now live in the nation. The little cuties have brown fur, with a white-yellow patch under their chins. I reckon they’re some of Scotland’s sexiest animals.

Like wildcats, they often hide away, and largely avoid exposed land, so it’s pretty tricky to see one. They typically live in little holes, and old birds’ nests, away from lurking predators.

But if you’re hoping to see some, go to one of the country’s dedicated hides, where you can hang out patiently. Two of the best are in Aigas Field Center (near Inverness), and Gairloch Kayak Center.

7. Mountain Hares

A Scottish Mountain hare found in the Findhorn Valley, Scottish Highlands
A Scottish Mountain hare found in the Findhorn Valley, Scottish Highlands

Imagine rabbits, but inflated, and with bigger ears. That’s a mountain hare, and typical adults usually measure in at around 60cm (24 inches).

Native to Britain, they’re experts at camouflage. In summer, they’re brown, to blend in with all the moorland, shrubbery and lofty heather. But in winter, their fur becomes white, so they can blend in with all the snow (snow in Scotland is rarer than it used to be, but that’s a topic for a different day).

They live on heathland, especially in the uplands. Most people reckon the best place to spot Scottish mountain hares is in the Cairngorms, the biggest national park in the UK.

Brown hares are also found in Scotland. They’re a little bigger than mountain hares, and they don’t have the same ridiculous camouflage capabilities.

8. Orkney Voles

An Orkney Vole found in the wild
An Orkney Vole found in the wild

Here’s one of Scotland’s most strange and mysterious creatures.

The Orkney Vole (as you might have guessed) is only found on the islands of Orkney, and in no other part of Scotland. But here’s the thing—no-one really knows how they got there.

Bigger than a normal vole, they have Belgian DNA. Around 5,000 years ago, they somehow made it to Scotland from Belgium (or somewhere in that region)—but researchers can’t seem to agree whether that was by chance or design. Were they hiding in hay? Or smuggled in some other cargo? Or did some fan of the creature import them on purpose?

Anyway, no matter why they’re there, you probably won’t see any Orkney Voles in Orkney. Not only are they elusive and hard to spot, but they’re frequently hunted by stoats (who also mysteriously appeared on Orkney with no explanation—but only around one or two decades ago. Bizarre!).

9. Adders

An adder warming up early in the morning in the Scottish lowlands
An adder warming up early in the morning in the Scottish lowlands

There are a surprising number of adders dotted around Scotland (and in nearby Northumberland).

The only venomous reptile you’ll find in the nation, they’re typically only visible in warmer months (since they like hiding away and hibernating in colder weather).

If you’re scared of snakes, here’s some good news: they usually only bite if threatened, so you’re probably not gonna find one hanging off your leg for no reason. If you see one, don’t pick it up, and it’ll just slink off to be all alone again.

They typically hang around in moorland, and especially in heathery places.

Fun fact: though adders are the only venomous snake in Scotland, they’re actually the nation’s smallest breed. Scotland is also home to smooth snakes and grass snakes, both of which are bigger and beefier than the adder.

10. Slow Worms

Detailed close up of a slow worm
Detailed close up of a slow worm

Just for a second, I want you to imagine someone took a lizard, and chopped off all its legs in a strange and incomprehensible attempt to make it look like a snake. That’s a slow worm!

Just like their sort-of similar snake friend the adder, they usually live in moorland and heathery places, and you’ll probably only find them out in the open when the sun is shining. But they also lurk under stones, and wood, and anything else they can find.

Because they bite very rarely, it’s actually safe to pick them up and handle them (if you’re into that sort of stuff). And even if they do bite you, they’re pretty harmless—slow worms aren’t venomous or toxic.

11. Otters

A wild otter on the Isle of Mull
A wild otter on the Isle of Mull

Last up on our land animals list, it’s otters.

Though otters are pretty rare (there are only around 8,000 of them living in Scotland), they’re widespread, so you can see them in many parts of the nation. The best otter-spotting locations are on the west coast of the mainland, and on the islands. I’ve seen them on both Skye and Arran.

If you’re looking for particular places, head to Kylerhea otter hide (near Broadford), or the hide on the shores of Loch Sunart (just north of the Isle of Mull).

Otters usually eat crabs and fish, but they also chow down on frogs, toads, voles and more. Because they’ll eat anything, and because their bodies are well-adapted to lots of different environments, you can find them on waterways, coasts, and even inland.

Fun fact: when they’re born, otters are blind.

Sea Animals in Scotland

12. Seals

A resting seal on a rocky coast in Scotland
A resting seal on a rocky coast in Scotland

I love seals.

Fat little cuties with friendly faces, they’re one of my favorite sea animals, and you can spot them in loads of places in Scotland. Allegedly, around 30% of Europe’s entire seal population live in the nation!

Scotland is home to two different types of seals: gray seals and harbor seals (the latter of which are endangered). Mull, Oban, Iona, Arran, and the Moray Firth are all pretty good seal-seeing spots, but they live in various parts of the nation—I often stumble upon seals by mistake in Scotland, so there’s a good chance you’ll see one.

But the best way to see seals in Scotland is to take a designated boat trip, to visit huge packs of the chubby critters. Some of the best destinations for these excellent (and massively recommended!) trips include Plockton, Oban and Lochalsh.

13. Whales

An Orca Whale spotted in the Shetlands
An Orca Whale spotted in the Shetlands

Off the coast of Scotland, you can often see humpback whales, minke whales and orca whales (also known as the killer whale).

Some of the best places to see them are Gairloch, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. But the prime spot for whale watching is The Isle of Mull, which is usually listed as one of the best whale-spotting locations in the entire world.

The best way to see whales in Scotland is on a designated boat trip—some of them offer a lofty 95% chance of seeing whales, which is a pretty impressive stat.

Top tip: if you want to see whales, make sure you visit Scotland during the right season. July and August are usually the best times (though orcas are visible year-round!).

14. Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins swimming free in the Moray firth in Scotland
Bottlenose dolphins swimming free in the Moray firth in Scotland

Next up, the most loveable water mammal on the planet. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you’ve probably always wanted to see one of these guys.

Around Scotland, you can see several different types of dolphins. The four most-spotted are the common dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, the white-beaked dolphin, and Risso’s dolphin.

Again, if you want the top dolphin-based experience you can get, it’s best to tackle a designated boat trip. For the best boat trips, head to the Moray Firth, southern Skye, Spey Bay, and Lewis and Harris.

That said, if you don’t fancy a boat trip, and just want to spot dolphins from the shore instead, that’s also possible. The best location for doing that (in my experience) is the northern part of the western coast, especially in and around Gairloch—but I’ve heard you can spot them from the shores of the Moray Firth too.

15. Porpoises

Porpoises

Similar to dolphins, you have porpoises.

If you want to see some of these guys, head to Shetland, the Moray Firth, the Firth of Clyde, and the northern part of Scotland’s west coast. Broadly speaking, they hang out in the same areas as dolphins—so if you’re on a dolphin-spotting trip, you might see some porpoises too.

That said, it’s actually more likely you’ll see dolphins than porpoises. Dolphins are more widespread and more sociable, and they hang around in much bigger groups.

Fun fact: over 90% of the world’s population of harbor porpoises are found in UK waters.

16. Basking Sharks

A basking shark spotted near Coll island in Scotland
A basking shark spotted near Coll island in Scotland

Last up on our list of massive sea creatures, it’s basking sharks.

You know that shark with the big wide mouth that loves catching hundreds of thousands of plankton in one tasty bite? That’s the basking shark!

The second-biggest variety of shark in the entire world(!), basking sharks frequently visit some parts of Scotland’s west coast—the best place to see them is off the shores of Lewis (or in and around any other part of the Outer Hebrides).

Fun fact: the average basking shark weighs in at around 5200kg (11,464 pounds). Some of them are bigger than a bus!

Fish in Scotland

17. Salmon

Everyone’s favorite pink-centered swimmer, lots of fish fans head to Scotland with the sole intention of catching themselves some salmon. The nation is known as one of the best places on the planet for abundant and accessible salmon fishing.

There are around 400 salmon-inhabited rivers in Scotland—some of the most famous are the Tweed, the Fyne, the Tay, the Dee and the Spey.

For much more information on catching salmon in Scotland, look here. Take your advice from those guys, not someone who’s never gone fishing in his life (that’s me, by the way).

Fun fact: we all know salmon are good at jumping. But some of them have been known to tackle 3-meter (9.8-feet) vertical leaps. Impressive.

18. Trout

Much like with salmon, lots of keen fishers go to Scotland to catch trout. Again, it’s known as one of the best destinations in the world for trout fishing.

In the nation, you can find rainbow trout, brown trout, and sea trout (the latter of which are actually just brown trout who’ve decided to go and live out in the sea, instead of in a river).

Throughout lots of Scotland’s coasts, lochs and rivers, you can catch trout. The nation is home to thousands of different locations where you can catch the creatures, throughout basically every part of the country. But for a comprehensive list of all the best locations, check out this site.

19. Cuttlefish

I know, I know—cuttlefish aren’t actually fish, but I’m not gonna give them a category of their own.

Closely related to snails, slugs, squid and mussels, cuttlefish are pretty interesting creatures. Like octopuses (or octopi, or whatever choice of plural word you prefer), they can release ink when they’re scared or under attack—and they can also change colors chameleon-style.

They’re largely found on the northern and western coasts of Scotland—but because they live in the sea, you’re not very likely to see one. It’s possible to fish for them, but that’s (of course) way less popular than fishing for salmon, or trout, or whatever.

Fun fact: cuttlefish have three hearts, along with blue-green blood.

20. Pike

Last up on our list of Scottish fish, we have the pike.

One of the largest freshwater fish in the whole of the UK, you can find the beefy boys in rivers, canals and lochs throughout the nation—but if you’re serious about catching some, lochs in the southern and central part of Scotland are usually your best bet. Here’s a list of some of the top locations.

Fun fact: pike are known as some of the most intimidating and aggressive fish in the UK. They have massive rows of super-sharp teeth, and they’re one of the biggest predators in the region.

Birds in Scotland

21. Woodpeckers

You know that strange bird that loves smashing its head against trees, like some sort of frustrated middle-aged man? Well, as you probably already know, that’s the woodpecker!

It’s not as common in Scotland as it is in England, but if you head to the forested sections of southern and central Scotland (or even in parks and gardens in that same region!), there’s a good chance you’ll see some of them.

Fun fact: woodpeckers’ tongues are sticky, and they’re about twice as long as their bills. They use these handy tongues to reach into holes and grab their prey.

22. Birds of Prey

Scotland is home to a surprisingly massive number of birds of prey.

In the nation, you can find golden eagles, buzzards, goshawks, kestrels, ospreys, falcons, red kites, sparrowhawks, hen harriers, merlins and more.

Different birds hang around in different places—so if you’re keen to see a specific bird of prey, do your research.

But Glen Affric and the Cairngorms are good for seeing a wide range, as are the various bird centers and RSPB reserves dotted throughout the nation. But the wildlife reserve at Ben Mor Coigach (close to Ullapool) is probably the nations’ most popular spot.

23. Kingfishers

One of Britain’s prettiest birds, the kingfisher is famous for its distinctive blue-and-copper color combo.

They usually hang around on low branches near rivers and streams, ready to dive in and catch some unlucky little fish.

To see some, you don’t need to visit a specific river, because they’re ubiquitous throughout much of Scotland (well, apart from some of the most northern stretches).

That said, you’ll need to be careful and patient—sit quietly, take your time, and be prepared to wait. If you do all that on the banks of a river, there’s a good chance you’ll see a kingfisher.

24. Owls

In Scotland, you can find barn owls, tawny owls, short-eared owls, long-eared owls, and little owls (I promise that last one’s a real variety, and not just a lazy description).

The best place to see owls in Scotland is typically in woodland, but different owls are spotted in different places, and during different times. So do some Googling before you set off on any owl-chasing expedition.

If you can’t be bothered to go on the hunt for owls in their natural habitat, you can instead head to the Scottish Owl Center. Conveniently situated halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, they have the largest collection of owls on the entire planet.

25. Puffins

Wild Puffins on Shetland Islands, Scotland
Wild puffins on Shetland Islands, Scotland

Another of my favorite animals, puffins are one of the prettiest birds on the planet. Fat and clumsy, with their colorful little beaks, it’s impossible not to love them. Make sure you try to see some when you visit Scotland.

The best way to spot puffins in the nation is by going offshore, where you’ll find lots of their kooky colonies. Some of the best locations are St. Abbs Head, Duncansby Head, and the islands of St. Kilda, Orkney and Shetland.

In lots of these places, it’s easy to organize boat trips to the colonies (which is the best—and often only—way to see the birds). Visit between April and August, when they hang about to lay their chicks.

Fun fact: just like penguins, most puffins mate for life. How cute.

Final Thoughts and Further Reading

Hope you enjoyed that big long list of all the most exciting wild animals in Scotland!

Here’s one final tip before I leave you: if you want to see a particular animal, always check in advance when the best season is. Some animals, you can only see during certain periods of the year, and you don’t want to waste your time.

If you want to know anything else about the creatures and critters in Scotland, check out our guides on bears in Scotland, elks in Scotland, and all the wildlife you can see on the Isle of Arran.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time!