For centuries, Scotland and the Hebrides have been known for their rugged coastline and breathtaking scenery, attracting travellers from all over the world. Now, more than ever before, it is also gaining recognition for the diverse range of wildlife species that call the Hebrides home.
With a wealth of ecosystems and wildlife habitats, there are species found nowhere else in the world, making this an extraordinary location for nature lovers. From majestic sea eagles soaring the skies to sea otters fishing for their dinner, the flora and fauna of the Hebrides is so unique that there’s no better way to experience it all than with a Scottish sailing holiday.
This guide will take you through an introduction to the wonderful wildlife of Scotland and the Hebrides. Jump to:
On Land – Scotland & the Hebrides Wild Animal Guide
In the Water – Scotland & the Hebrides Marine Wildlife Guide
In the Sky – Scotland & the Hebrides Birdwatching Guide
On Land – Scotland Wild Animal Guide
Scotland is home to an astounding array of wildlife on land, perhaps unsurprising considering the diverse range of ecosystems and habitats present in this corner of the world. One of the many benefits of a sailing holiday in the Hebrides is the opportunity to spend time experiencing so many different areas and islands in one holiday, maximising your chances of spotting Scottish wildlife on land.
The Scottish Wildcat
Britain’s last remaining large predator and only wild feline. The wildcat has evolved and adapted to the Scottish landscape and pre-dates even early human existence! Unfortunately, the Scottish Wildcat is currently considered endangered, although there are a number of projects working to save the species.
Where to see the Scottish Wildcat: Found throughout the mainland of Scotland. Most typically seen between dusk and dawn in clearings in woodland or grassland. Look out for them on a voyage along the Caledonian Canal with tall ship the Flying Dutchman or ketch Steady.
The Red Deer
The Red Deer is Scotland’s largest and most magnificent deer species. Red Deer are perhaps most known for their large antlers, visible during the autumn mating season. At this time of year, males attempt to claim their territories and ‘rut’ one another, making a magnificent sight on your wildlife holiday in Scotland.
Where to see Red Deer in Scotland: A common sight across the mainland and the Hebrides. Keep an eye out for these majestic creatures across the Outer Hebrides, and the Small Isles. Red Deer are frequently seen on our Small Isles sailing voyages, particularly on the Isle of Rum.
The Mountain Hare
Native to Scotland, but also found across Scandinavia, the Mountain Hare is one of the sweetest Scottish wildlife sightings. They can often be found sitting perfectly still whilst eating, or bounding across the moors, although their seasonal camouflage can make them a rather tricky spot! With a grey-brown coat in the summer that changes to an arctic white in the winter, they are most recognisable by the tips of their ears which remain dark brown year round.
Where to see Mountain Hares in the Hebrides: Mountain hares are a frequent sight in less populated areas of the Hebrides. They are common across the Outer Hebrides as well as Eigg in the Small Isles.
In the Water – Scotland Marine Wildlife Guide
From the mighty humpback whale to the humble grey seal, the marine life in the Hebrides is truly a wonder to behold. The best way to maximise your chances of seeing the most Scottish marine wildlife is undoubtedly on a sailing holiday, where you’ll have the chance to sail amongst these animals in their natural habitats.
Dolphins and Porpoises
A common sight on sailing adventures around the world, dolphins are no less special when spotted in Scotland. Marvel as they glide along the bow, swimming in the wake of the boat and playfully dancing in the water. Bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and porpoises all call the waters of West Scotland and the Hebrides their home.
Where to see dolphins and Porpoises in the Hebrides: The waters between Oban, South Uist, North Uist, Eigg, and Skye are home to a wide array of dolphins, with bottlenose and common dolphins and porpoises a regular spot. To catch a glimpse of the more elusive Risso’s dolphin, head for the waters between Ullapool to Stornoway. All our Scottish voyages have a high likelihood of coming in to contact with dolphins. Head to the Inner Hebrides with Stravaigin for the best chances of seeing common and bottlenose dolphins. Or sail with Steady from Oban to Ullapool to spot the rare Risso’s Dolphin.
Whether it’s the star ‘West Coast Community’ pod of Orcas that call Scotland home, or the more commonly sighted Minke, whales have resided in Scotland for centuries. In fact, there were previously whaling stations across the Hebrides, although thankfully now the focus is on whale conservation. Our charity partners at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust have a wide range of useful information available, including a live whale tracker!
Recent research has shown that humpback whales have made a comeback in Scotland, with more than 100 sightings now recorded. Humpback whales have a somewhat distinctive appearance with a predominantly black body and white patches on the underside.
Where to see humpback whales in Scotland: Although a rare sight, Humpback whales pass through Scottish waters throughout the year. The best chance of spotting them is off the coast of the Hebrides during their migration seasons in autumn and spring as they travel between Africa and Norway.
Best spotted in the sailing season between April and October, Minke whales are the smallest whale found in the UK. They are common sights on our Scottish wildlife adventures, and incredibly inquisitive creatures, regularly coming to investigate our boats! We operate a wildlife code of conduct at sea, turning our engines off and letting animals approach as they wish.
Where to see Minke Whales in the Hebrides: Minke whales are best seen in open waters surrounding the Hebrides. Minke whales are often seen on voyages to the outer Hebrides with tall ship Blue Clipper or historic ketch Bessie Ellen.
Scotland’s West coast is home to the UK’s only resident pod of orcas, the aptly named ‘West Coast Community’. This small pod consists of just 8 killer whales, a quarter of the size of a usual pod, and far more difficult to spot! Nonetheless, these resident whales are undoubtedly the pinnacle of Scottish wildlife spots.
Where to see Orcas in Scotland: You’ll be incredibly lucky to catch a glimpse of these rare creatures, but there is a chance to spot them in the Hebrides! The West Coast Community are most likely to be seen around the Small Isles and Skye, so could be potential spots on our Hebridean sailing holidays with pilot cutter Pellew and tall ship the Flying Dutchman.
In the Sky – Guide to Bird Watching in the Hebrides
The inner and outer Hebrides are home to an incredible variety of bird life, from charming puffin colonies to majestic golden eagles to nesting seabirds. No Scottish wildlife-watching holiday would be complete without a sighting of some incredible birdlife, and sailing holidays undoubtedly offer the best opportunity to see some of these creatures in their natural habitats.
Arguably one of the most iconic species of bird in Scotland, Puffins are undoubtedly one of our favourite Hebridean wildlife spots. Puffins have a distinct charm and appeal, and it is fascinating to watch them communicate with their brightly coloured bills. A visit to a friendly puffin colony is a must when hopping ashore, they are incredibly inquisitive and always come to say hello!
Where to see puffins in Scotland: Although they can be spotted across the inner and outer Hebrides, with large colonies on St Kilda, the most special place to visit them is the isle of Lunga in the Treshnish isles and the island of Staffa, where they can be found nesting during the breeding season between March and May. Head to the isle of Staffa with expedition yacht Zuza, or tall ship Bessie Ellen.
The golden eagle is truly a spectacular sight on a wildlife trip to the Hebrides. The eagle survives, and even thrives as a predator in the harsher environments in Scotland, being able to reach speeds of up to 200mph when diving for prey. Scotland is a stronghold for the Golden Eagle, with the highest population in Europe.
Where to see Golden Eagles in Scotland: The Outer Hebrides is home to the largest population of Golden Eagles in Scotland. The remote, untamed nature of these islands means that they reside surprisingly close to human settlements. Pay close attention on the Isle of Harris, where an eagle observatory is located.
Scotland is of high international importance for seabird colonies, and more than 5 million seabirds breed there each year. An incredible array of birds call the Hebrides home, from the closely related Shags and Cormorants to the Guillemots and Razorbills that nest on cliffs. Other common bird watching sights in the Hebrides include Osprey, Skua, Manx, Shearwater and Petrel birds. Most seabirds are common across the mainland of Scotland as well as the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, and a sailing holiday means you’re never far away from some incredible spots.
Where to see seabirds in Scotland: One of the best places to spot seabirds is on a voyage to St Kilda, an epic dual world heritage site that is uninhabited aside from the hundreds of seabirds that call the towering cliffs home. The outer Hebrides and Shiants are also home to an incredible array of seabirds, often spotted on voyages with yacht Zuza, tall ship Bessie Ellen, and ketch Steady.
A sailing holiday in Scotland and The Hebrides is an unforgettable experience that provides visitors with a unique opportunity to witness some of Europe’s most spectacular wildlife up close while exploring diverse landscapes and ecosystems. None of our voyages require sailing experience, and our range of fleet offers something for every traveller. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Scottish wildlife adventure today!