Scottish Wildlife Holidays

Why is Scotland such a great place to see wild animals?


Scotland’s vast, wild landscape and low population make it the perfect habitat for some of the British Isles’ most iconic wildlife. From majestic red deer to playful otters, the variety and abundance of native species is spectacular.

 

Ardgartan Argyll landscape

 

This makes Scotland one of the best places in the world for a wildlife holiday. If you want rare wildlife on your doorstep, look no further than our cabins at Strathyre, where our neighbours are pine martens and red squirrels. Or stay at Ardgartan Argyll, to spot golden eagles above the Arrochar Alps, and look for otters in Loch Long. Read on to find out more about the animals and birds you can expect to see on your Scottish wildlife holiday.

The pine marten

Martes martes


Pine martens, one of the rarest of our native mammals, are staging a significant comeback in Scotland and delighting our guests at Strathyre, where a group have set up home. 

 

Pine martens are playful animals, about the size of domestic cats, with reddish-brown fur on their backs and a distinctive yellow ‘bib’ on their throats. Watch our amazing video footage showing their nocturnal antics at Strathyre.

 

We have spent a great deal of time observing our resident pine martens at Strathyre and have lots more information on this cheeky creature here.

 

pine marten

 

Pine marten Facts:

• Pine martens are members of the mustelid family, their close relations being the weasel, stoat and mink

• A group of pine martens is called a ‘richness’ and we are delighted to have our own richness of pine martens at Strathyre

• Our Strathyre location in Scotland is one of the only places in Great Britain where you have a good chance of spotting a pine marten

• There are now approximately 4000 pine martens in Scotland but very few in England and Wales. Find out how conservation efforts are helping their renaissance.

The golden eagle

Aquila chrysaetos


The golden eagle is a magnificent bird of prey. In the UK it is the second largest eagle after the white tailed eagle and it is almost exclusive to Scotland. It prefers open moorlands and mountainous areas and can be spotted in the West Coast and Highlands of Scotland, including rare sightings around both our Scottish locations, Ardgartan Argyll and Strathyre.

 

golden eagle

 

Notable for the light golden-brown colouring on its head, neck and shoulder feathers, with a darker mottled brown body, the golden eagle has a long tail and an impressive wingspan of up to 2m. Young golden eagles are a darker, chocolate brown with distinctive white markings on the wings and at the top of the tail.

 

In flight, the golden eagle is most likely to be seen soaring majestically overhead as it captures the air currents beneath its huge wings. That sudden dive to earth means prey has been spotted and doesn’t stand much of a chance!

 

Golden eagle Facts:

• The golden eagle has no natural predators; its only threat is from human activity

• There are just over 400 breeding pairs in Scotland, where they are resident year round

• Their preferred diet is hares, grouse and occasionally rabbits

• The Forestry Commission has discovered that golden eagles thrive above open spaces and now include these spaces in their tree planting plans

The red deer

Cervus elaphus


The red deer is the largest land mammal in the UK. One of the iconic images of Scotland, it is immortalised in Landseer’s famous painting, the Monarch of the Glen. Red deer are resident in pockets throughout the UK but their population is most concentrated in the woodlands, moors and hills of Scotland. We have regular sightings around Ardgartan Argyll and Strathyre.

 

The stag is most recognisable, with large branching antlers - which can be as long as 45cm. Both the male and the female red deer have reddish brown coats in the summer, which turn to grey in the winter.

 

reed deer stag

 

The mating season, or the rut, takes place from mid-September into October and the fights between competing males, when they lock antlers, are ferocious. The females give birth, after a winter pregnancy, in May or June.

 

Red deer Facts:

• A stag’s antlers grow throughout the spring and are shed every winter

• Native predators of the red deer are all now extinct in Great Britain and included wolves, bears and lynx

• Red deer are herbivores, eating grasses, shrubs and tree shoots – much to the annoyance of many farmers

• Red deer have been in Scotland for over 11,000 years

The red squirrel

Sciurus vulgaris


The red squirrel is one of Britain’s most-loved wild animals, a woodland favourite which somehow evokes nostalgia for a Britain that is disappearing.

 

red squirrel

 

These feelings are legitimate for the red squirrel has indeed been disappearing from our forests at an alarming rate. Pushed out by the more aggressive American grey squirrel and falling victim to squirrel pox, it is now a rare sight in England. However, here in Scotland, the picture is a little more positive and it is estimated that 75% of Britain’s red squirrels reside in Scotland.

 

The red squirrel is slightly more petite than the grey squirrel and is a warm reddish-brown colour in the summer with a cream underside and that signature bushy tail. They become a deeper brown colour in the winter. They can be seen at both our Ardgartan Argyll and our Strathyre locations.

 

Red squirrel Facts:

• Squirrels don’t hibernate but they do become less active in the winter and this is why they store nuts

• The red squirrel’s friend is the pine marten as pine martens keep the grey squirrel population at bay

• Baby red squirrels are called kittens and they are born without teeth or hair

• Red squirrels can swim!

The otter

Lutra lutra


There are otters aplenty in Scotland but of all the animals we have featured, they are perhaps the ones you are least likely to spot. They are in Loch Lubnaig at Strathyre and they are also reported to be returning to Loch Long at Ardgartan Argyll. You should be able to see signs of where they have been but you will need immense patience to actually spot one. Look for 5-toed footprints, about 6cm long, and droppings (or spraints) with visible fish bones and a distinctive aroma which has been described as jasmine tea or hay.

 

pine marten

 

While otters almost disappeared in England at one point, they have continued to flourish in Scotland’s clear waters. About half of Scotland’s otters live in the sea off the West Coast and around the islands. 

 

As mustelids, otters are related to our much loved friend, the pine marten. They have long, streamlined bodies and webbed feet with a thick tail, which acts as a rudder. They have dense fur and are brown with a cream underbelly.

 

Otter facts:

• Otters rest and have their young in underground burrows called holts

• In north west Scotland, otters are often called by their Gaelic name, Beaste Dubh, which translates as Black Beast

• Otters close off their eyes and nostrils when swimming

• Freshwater otters are largely nocturnal, while coastal otters are active during the day