Scotland's Native Wildlife
Scotland is known for being a hotspot for unique and breathtaking nature, attracting thousands of visitors and admirers each year. From the highlands to the seaside, if you know the right places to look and when, you can witness some incredible wildlife. Here are 5 of Scotland’s most marvellous native wild animals.
- The Highland Cow
An iconic mascot of Scotland, the highland cow is perhaps one of the most famous animals of the country. As the name suggests, this breed of cow originated from the Scottish highlands. Known for their shaggy ginger hair and long horns, the Highland cow is dated to be recorded in history as far back as the 1880s, making it the oldest registered breed of cattle in the world!
Although other colours of Highland cow are bred, the reddish colour of woolly coat has been favoured for quite some time. On a visit to the Highlands, Queen Victoria noted the uniqueness and beauty of a red Highland cow, resulting in farmers selectively breeding the colour for a number of years. This has meant there has been a decline in other colours of highland cows such as brown or yellow.
If you fancy seeing one of these famous cow’s for yourself, you are best to take a wee treck up into the Highlands to find them in their natural habitat. They’re most likely to be roaming around in rural fields in the North West or Cairngorms National Park. Many farms and zoos around Scotland (and the world) host the highland cow, but we recommend seeing them in their natural habitat.
- The Red Squirrel
Much like the highland cow, Scotland has its own ginger version of the squirrel. Red Squirrels are Scotland’s only native squirrel; however there has been a rapid decline in the last decade with only 120,000 estimated left.
This decline is thought to be due to the introduction of the popular Grey Squirrel from North America which carries the disease parapoxvirus. This disease is fatal to red squirrels but does not affect greys. Red squirrels have also been affected by habitat loss as they prefer pine woodland and therefore, they are restricted to northern England and Scotland. Spotting a red squirrel in Scottish countryside is rare but not impossible! A lot of forests in Scotland are known for having ‘buffer zones’ meaning red squirrels are protected and cared for. Culbin Forest in Moray, Blackmuir Wood in Strathpeffer and Blair Atholl Estate, Perthshire are just few of the examples where if you look carefully, you’re likely to spot one!
- The Clowning Puffin
One of the most famous birds in Scotland, people flock to Scottish seaside to catch a glimpse of the magnificent Clowning Puffin. Lovingly known as ‘the clown of the sea’, these puffins annually migrate to Scotland’s coast to settle for the summer season.
Watching a clowning puffin hunt for fish is a breath taking experience, as they dive up to 60 metres from the air into the water to search for fish. These sea parrots are reported to be endangered species, with their numbers significantly declining in recent years. This is thought to be due to global warming with sea temperatures rising, effecting their habitat and food resources. Wildlife protection agencies have been working hard to ensure these birds are well looked after during their settling season in Scotland.
Easily identified with their vibrant orange and yellow feathers, these puffins can be found around North Berwick, Orkney and Shetland. The best time to see these birds is from March to August, where they gather for mating.
- The Humpback Whale
The coastline of Scotland is one of the best places to spot a humpback whale, which is reported a one in a lifetime experience. These massive creatures average around 56 feet and 44 tons in weight, and are known for their ‘humpback’ shape and bumps along their jaw and flippers.
These whales migrate up to 16,000 km a year and are now found quite frequently in Scottish waters for feeding and breeding. Luckily for whale spotters, humpback whales enjoy putting on a show, often surfacing to blow out water, tail and fin slapping. Whale blows can reach as high as 4 meters tall and is a spectacular sight. One humpback, Barney, has been traced and photographed all over Scotland waters for years, and even has a fan club!
In Scotland, commercial whale hunting is banned to protect them. However, these whales still face considerable threats from entanglement in fishing ropes and lines. The coast of Mull is filled with bays and rocky caves which offer the ideal environment for whale species to be observed in their natural habitat. The humpback whale is commonly seen during the summer season for feeding and mating.
- The Red Deer
Another red animal native to Scotland, the red deer is an iconic symbol of Scotland. Scotland’s biggest species of deer, the males are famous for their incredible long antlers which can weigh as much as 15kg.
Stags are known to be heard ‘roaring’ in Scottish countryside’s, and are territorial animals famous for fighting. Red deer are reported to actually be increasing in numbers over the years, so your chances of spotting them in rural Scotland are fairly high! Just be careful if driving, as they are known to jump out in front of cars, causing around 6,000 traffic incidents per year.
The best place to spot these red deer is Cairngorms National Park or Galloway Forest Park, however you can find them dotted around most rural forests in Scotland.