Scotland

Wildlife of the Hebrides: What You Can See and When

If you are hoping to experience the sheer joy of seeing beautiful wildlife species flourish in their natural environments, you’ll love the Hebrides. Home to all manner of beings, from puffins to red deer to orcas, the Hebrides archipelago is a real sanctuary. 

If you are looking to experience the wilder side of the Inner and Outer Hebrides and see some of the beautiful residents, take a look at our guide to the wildlife of the Hebrides. To increase your chances of sightings and practice safe wildlife-watching (for you and the wildlife), you can join up with accredited tours and benefit from rich local knowledge and expertise.  

Resident Wildlife of the Hebrides 

Dolphins

It’s impossible not to be thrilled at the sight of dolphins slicing through the water with effortless grace and speed. Highly social beings with unique languages that vary from pod to pod, they are known for their beauty, complex emotions, industriousness and playfulness. Always fascinating to watch, both bottlenose and common dolphins can be seen around the west coast of Scotland and throughout the waters of the Hebrides year-round.

Otters

Arguably the Hebrides’ most charismatic full-time residents are its otters. Living along the seashore and in the rivers and lochs of the islands of the Hebrides, these Eurasian otters can grow to over a meter in length. Sourcing their food from the sea, they are often seen basking in the sun or tucking into a tasty morsel amongst the seaweed and rocks of Mull and Skye’s coastline – their thick coats a surprisingly effective camouflage. Listen out for their characteristic “peep” sound as you wander. 

Red Deer

Iconic figures gracing the crests of mist-shrouded hills and valley floors, reed deer are some of the Hebrides most majestic residents. They can be seen roaming the hills and moors of Skye, Mull, North Harris, Taransay and more and are always a real pleasure to see – if you are lucky enough, that is. While they can be spotted year-round, they are at their most active during autumn’s rutting season, when the haunting cries of stags carry far and wide on the wind. 

Seals

Both common and grey seals can be seen all year in the Hebrides, either lolling on inshore rocks in the sunshine or bobbing around at sea during fishing trips. If you’d like to glimpse seal pups, grey seal pups are born onshore between late September and November, while common seal pups are born onshore in June. You can often see them on beaches from the cliffs or whilst kayaking, but just remember to keep your distance and avoid disturbing the seals as this can cause them considerable stress and even lead to injury. 

White-Tailed Sea Eagles 

The largest bird in the UK, white tailed sea eagles command awe. Standing at nearly a meter tall and with an enormous wingspan of up to 2.5 metres, they are perfectly attuned for catching and killing a variety of prey including fish, rabbits and seabirds. Despite becoming extinct in the UK in the early 20th Century, their numbers have made a successful comeback thanks to dedicated reintroduction programmes. Happily, they can now be seen around the islands of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, including the Isle of Rum and Isle of Mull.

Migratory Wildlife of the Hebrides

Minke Whales

If you are staying in the Hebrides between May and October, you may be lucky enough to spot Minke whales during an accredited wildlife safari. With boat trips exploring the coasts of many of the Inner and Outer Hebridean islands, you may well get the chance to see these distinctive looking baleen whales feeding and socialising in family groups. Some of the best places to see them are off the islands of Lewis and Harris, Skye and Mull. 

Orcas

Some of the Hebrides’ most elusive visitors are its orcas. Despite their size and striking markings, orcas are only rarely spotted around the Hebridean islands – but this only serves to make sightings all the more of a privilege. Frequenting the waters of the west and north coasts of Scotland, these social family pods make themselves busy living and hunting together. Generally, they come to the Hebrides between May and August each year when they come closer to shore to hunt seals and their pups. 

Puffins

Arriving in the spring and staying until late summer, puffins are regular visitors to the Hebrides each year. Having spent up to 8 months at sea, these beautiful yet hardy birds return to land to reclaim their favourite nesting spots and rear their young. For wildlife-lovers, the best time to see puffins is between April and August, when their colourful, painted faces can be seen peering out from rocky crevices and grassy burrows on coastal cliffs and offshore islands. For your best chances to see them, visit St Kilda, the Isle of Mull and Staffa National Nature Reserve.

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