While the Moray Firth colony is perhaps the most renowned, bottlenose dolphins may be seen all around the coast of Scotland. The dolphin’s body is beautifully streamlined and extremely well suited to its life in the marine environment. A single nostril or blowhole allows the dolphin to take in air when it comes to the surface. Their bulging forehead contains an organ called the melon, which holds a mass of fat and oily tissue. The melon is important as it allows dolphins to echolocate food and to communicate with each other in schools.
Red Kites are a common sight gliding above the fields around Big Sky Lodges. This magnificently graceful bird of prey is unmistakable with its reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail. It was saved from national extinction by one of the world’s longest running protection programmes, and has now been successfully re-introduced to Scotland, initially in the Black Isle though the population has now spread. Kites like deciduous woodland with farmland and grassland nearby. They feed on Carrion, worms and small mammals.
The badger is a large and instantly recognisable member of the weasel family. A secretive and nocturnal animal, with a distinctive black and white-striped face, the badger breeds in winter and gives birth to cubs in the shelter of its sett in February. In spring and summer, the possibility exists in many localities to join organised sett watches, and to enjoy the quirky behaviour of badger families foraging for food.
One of the hardest Scottish mammals to spot in the wild (primarily due to its nocturnal habits), this sleek woodland predator is nevertheless expanding its range throughout Scotland. Once persecuted for its highly-prized fur, the pine marten is now becoming an ever more regular visitor to gardens across the Highland mainland and Eastern Lowlands. The plight of pine martens has been aided by the spread of new forestry.
A unique species in its own right, the status of the Scottish wildcat is threatened by increased interbreeding with formerly domestic cats living feral. Probably the most difficult Scottish mammal to observe in the wild, signs of this predator’s whereabouts (such as bone and feather-laden droppings) are inevitably easier to come across. New woodland plantations have encouraged growth of the wildcat’s range to the southern fringes of the Highlands.
The golden eagle is a huge bird of prey, with only the white-tailed eagle larger in the UK. With its long broad wings and longish tail, it has a different outline to the smaller buzzard. It likes to soar and glide on air currents, holding its wings in a shallow ‘V’. Eagles have traditional territories and nesting places which may be used by generations. They have been persecuted in the past and are still occasionally poisoned, or have their nests robbed. The species inhabits high moorland, mountains and remote islands where there are plenty of open areas to feed over.
The Moray Firth is home to the most renowned colony of bottlenose dolphins around the coast of Scotland. The dolphin’s body is beautifully streamlined and extremely well suited to its life in the marine environment. A single nostril or blowhole allows the dolphin to take in air when it comes to the surface.
Without doubt one of Scotland’s most recognisable and popular mammals, the red squirrel has sadly been forced from much of its original habitat since the introduction of its larger grey cousin. The forests of Dumfries and Galloway, the Central Highlands and elsewhere nevertheless remain strongholds. More difficult to observe than greys, these woodland characters with their tufted ears and bushy tails can often be lured into gardens with the promise of food.
Perhaps the most celebrated of all Scottish mammals, the red deer is also the largest and one of the most populous. The current population stands at roughly 300,000, double what it was as recently as 1965. Most of these animals live in the Highlands and Islands, though large numbers can be found in the Galloway hills. Stags and hinds live in separate herds for much of the year but come together rather vocally each autumn in the breeding season, or rut. A stag may mate with up to twenty hinds in a given year. Calves are born in June.
The roe deer is primarily found in areas of mixed woodland but is capable of adapting to a wide variety of habitats. It is a small deer and is reddish-brown in summer, while greyer in winter months. The roe deer is generally more solitary than its larger red cousin, and is to be found at lower altitudes. They are distinguishable facially by a black ‘moustache’ stripe and white chin, and also by a cream coloured rump patch. Male roe deer are larger than females and have short antlers bearing no more than three points.