Scottish Highlands Wildlife – What Animals Live in The Highlands?

Dramatic mountain scenery and the largest, deepest lochs. This forms the perfect habitat for all of earth’s creatures. From land to sea, forest to river, there’s so much wildlife to be seen during a holiday to the Highlands. Here are animals that you might spot during your visit to Scotland’s rugged wilderness, and some of these may surprise you. 

Whales

Both Minke and Orca whales can be seen along the coast of the Highlands. Minkes are commonly found around the west coast and are best spotted when the sun is shining and the ocean is calm. So the summer months are ideal. Orca whales (or killer whales) are less common, but the west coast family roam the sea anywhere from Cape Wrath all the way down to Cornwall in England. 

Orca Whales

Basking Shark

It’s the world’s second largest fish, growing up to 12 metres in length. But despite their size and their scary name, they are completely harmless to humans. They feast on tiny plankton, by filtering it through its mouth and gills, and can be seen when the seas are calm. The basking shark is a summer visitor, so come when the weather is hot. 

Deer

The deer is Scotland’s most iconic creature. Most commonly, red deer are found on rough moorland or the fringe of the forest throughout the Highlands region. They are spotted easily, particularly in the summer season when stags show off their new antlers. If you’re here in autumn, head to Glencoe where there are many great wildlife walks with almost guaranteed viewing. 

Scottish Deer

Red Squirrels

Cute and utterly delightful to watch, these tiny little natives are bound to put a smile on children’s faces. They’re speed demons though, making them rather elusive. Red squirrels are also not as prevalent as they used to be, with a diminishing population that is now overshadowed by the grey variety. At dusk and night, they are most active in the coniferous forests of the west and the Caledonian forest of Strathspey. 

Otters

Mostly nocturnal, otters aren’t always easy to stalk. They are out and about during late evenings or very early in the morning. But a little bit of patience and an early alarm will give you a much better chance of an encounter. If you head out at low tide, you might just be lucky enough to capture mother and cubs enjoying their breakfast. 

Pine Marten

A forest resident known for being a great hunter. They are excellent climbers too so you may see them hanging out above you. Also a shameless scavenger, it’s not unusual to see this tiny mammal scouring the bins for food.

Scottish Pine Marten

Dolphins 

Dolphin tours are fantastic for the whole family. Encountering dolphins is a truly magical experience, and these beautiful sea creatures are often found riding the bow waves of boats along the western coast. They’re playful and friendly, and usually travel in small pods, making seeing them even easier. The best time year for a dolphin excursion is from the end of May to September.

Scottish Wildcat 

An animal that’s under threat (and more so than any other native species), the wildcat is a rare treat for wildlife walkers. It can only be found in a few pockets of the Highlands now, in some areas of the far north and west. Being shy and nocturnal, sightings of this stunning cat can be tricky. They don’t like to be on open ground either, so tend to use riverbanks and hedges to get around.