Spotting Wildlife In The Cairngorms

After a long cold winter, Spring has sprung in the Cairngorms National Park!  Along with the warmer weather, leaves have started to grow on the trees and the snowdrops and crocuses are finally out!

Not only is it us humans who realise there’s a change, the wildlife do too and with over 25% of the UK’s threatened or rare species living here, it makes it a great place to come and spot them. Here we share some tips for spotting wildlife in the Cairngorms…

Red Squirrels

A true character of the pinewoods you can see red squirrels all over the National Park. They are active throughout the day, especially just after dawn and before sunset. Look up amongst the branches and you might see a soft, bushy red tail arc along a branch and spring through the air!

Red Squirrel – Gerry McFarlane

Scottish Crossbill

Scottish crossbills are confined to the Scots pine forests of the Scottish Highlands, both ancient Caledonian forest and new commercial plantations. Crossbills use their unusual, twisted bill to force open pine cones to get to the seeds inside. The best chance to see them is when they come down to drink at woodland pools.

Crossbill – VisitScotland/Paul Tomkins.


The ptarmigan is a plump game bird. In summer, it has a mixture of grey, brown and black feathers. In winter, it becomes totally white except for its tail and eye-patch, which remain black. The best chance to see this superbly camouflaged bird is around the CairnGorm ski area.

Ptarmigan – Scott Lamont

Snow Bunting

Normally resident in the arctic circle and a winter visitor to the UK, there is a small year-round population on Cairngorm Mountain. In winter you can see snow bunting at ski centre car parks, often feeding on insects and crumbs.

Snow Bunting – Speyside Wildlife

Mountain Hare

The transition from summer to winter coat is the easiest way to tell the difference from a brown hare, although the mountain hare does have smaller ears. They are most active in the evening and at night, mountain hares will rest in forms and scrapes during the day with their backs to the wind, sheltered by rocks and heather.

Mountain Hare – Beverley Thain

Roe Deer

Roe deer often come out of the woodland fringes to feed in the fields in the morning and late evening. Smaller than red deer, they have a strong ginger-red coat in summer and a darker grey-brown one in winter.

Roe Deer – Sally Carpender


Osprey are not often seen far from water. From below they have white or mottled underparts and long narrow wings. They arrive back in the Cairngorms from West Africa in late March and April and stay until August and September. The best chance of spotting them is at the RSPB Osprey Centre at Loch Garten.

Osprey – Raymond JP Watson

Crested Tit

The crested tit is largely confined to ancient Caledonian pine forests and Scots pine plantations. Identification is easy because there’s no mistaking the distinctive crest. Although often in the treetops, they will come down to lower branches and can be spotted on garden bird tables and feeders in the Cairngorms.

Crested Tit – Steve Neil

Facts & Figures

Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend

In the month of May the Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend runs a host of events for residents and visitors to the Park. Organised by the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the Festival offers lots of activities and events aimed at families, nature and wildlife lovers.

Find out more and book your tickets at:

Feeling inspired by our blog and want to plan a wildlife tour? Check out our Wildlife itinerary blog!

Share this article?

Join our Mailing List

Sign up to get notified of the latest deals, news and all the latest information direct to your inbox.