Where can I find rare wildlife in the Highlands?

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1. Look north

As a naturalist and TV producer I’ve spent many happy hours in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a stunning part of the country, with towering mountains, dense forests, rugged cliffs and moorland. But it’s also home to an incredible array of rare animals, many of which just can’t be found anywhere else in the UK.

But the good news is that it’s not just people in my line of work who are lucky enough to get close to them. Cheeky red squirrels, swooping white-tailed eagles and even camouflaged ptarmigan can be all spotted by wildlife watchers.

The Highlands are home to some fantastic beasts, if you know where to find them.

2. What can be found and where?

Click on the map to discover where and how to spot rare birds and animals.

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3. Scotland's rarest: The Highland tiger

There's one creature you may never find.

The Scottish Wildcat is an elusive creature at the best of times, being both nocturnal and stealthy.

At one time wildcats roamed across the country but over the centuries cross-breeding with domesticated tabby cats has diluted their gene pool.

Now the majority of wildcats are hybrids and experts consider an animal with 85% of wildcat genes to be as close to pure-bred as they’re likely to find.

But hybrid or not, wildcats are a sight worth seeing. They're much sturdier than domestic felines and can be up to a metre long. While they're similar to tabby cats their tails are bushier, with thick black rings and a blunt tip.

Wildcats live in many Highland habitats, but the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the west coast is a particular stronghold.

4. Reflection

But not every bird or animal is so hard to find. There are some iconic Scottish creatures which can be found relatively easily if you know where to look.


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There are nesting sites at Loch Garten near Nethy Bridge and Loch of the Lowes by Dunkeld. Look out for them fishing on any inland loch from April to August.

Golden eagles

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Golden eagles

They thrive in the glens north of Inverness but don’t often fly, making them hard to find. The key to seeing one is to look for movement in the treetops.

Red squirrels

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Red squirrels

Not exclusive to the Highlands but found here in greater numbers. They’re visible in woodlands throughout the year, but far easier to spot in autumn.