Winter Wildlife in the Cairngorms

The Cairngorms is home to many of Scotland’s iconic wildlife species and winter can be a fantastic time to spot them as they feed up for winter and the area is quieter in general. As you explore the National Park you might like to look out for some of the following…

Thank you to Speyside Wildlife for writing this blog full of insight on what to look out for here in the Cairngorms National Park in winter.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel by Speyside Wildlife

One of our most readily encountered mammals, it is typically reddish orange with a white belly. In winter its coat can take on a greyish tinge but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean it’s turning into a Grey Squirrel, it’s just their natural process. They live in special nests called dreys and can live in both coniferous and deciduous woodland. The squirrel’s reddish coat colour offers camouflage against the bark of trees; Scot’s Pine in particular, which you can identify as their soaring trucks have an ‘orange’ tinge towards the top. As you walk through our local forests you may hear squirrels before you see them as they chatter in the trees or chase each other around trunks, competing for food and interacting.

Blue Tit

One of our most familiar species, with its characteristic blue and white facial markings and a yellow belly, these live in all kinds of woodland and frequently in urban gardens too. They like to eat insects, seeds and they can do this by gleaning them off branches and when eating the seeds from Alder Tree cones they do so with such balance and dexterity, given how thin the branches can be.

Blue Tit by Speyside Wildlife

Great Tit

A larger species of tit that has a black and white face and a yellow belly with a black streak down the middle – in males this is thicker, in females it’s thinner ending in a squiggle at the bottom. It makes the classic ‘teacha-teacha-teacha’ call, like it’s saying ‘teacher’. These also live in woodland and are frequently seen with other tit species. These also eat insects and seeds. Coal Tit – Asmaller tit species that lives mainly in coniferous woodland. It has a black and white face, looking more bull-necked than the Great Tit, with a white stripe down the back of the head. The back is a dull bluish-grey and the belly is a dull yellow. These often draw attention to themselves by making ‘me-too, me-too, me-too’ calls.

Great Tit by Speyside Wildlife

Crested Tit

One of the iconic species of the Highlands – the only place it is found in the UK. It has a grey and white face, dull orangey eyes, a white belly with a dull brownish back. Its namesake feature is its crest, which looks like a tuft coming from the top of its head. Within the UK this bird lives in Scot’s Pine Forest, which is a coniferous tree with needles that are evergreen. The Crested Tit is often fast moving but often draws attention to itself by making high pitched chittering sounds, an essential sound to know when searching for them.

Crested Tit by Speyside Wildlife


These are members of the finch family. The males are orange breasted and the females are a light grey. They like to live in both deciduous and coniferous woodland but will also feed in more open areas like farmer’s stubble fields where they search for any seeds and grassy remains left over after the fields have been harvested. They also eat insects.

Chaffinch by Speyside Wildlife


A more unusual member of the finch family and is often seen with Chaffinches, these are orange, black and white birds with males having scaly brown ‘hoods’, females are less boldly coloured, with some greyish brown on the cheeks. These birds are mostly seen in the autumn and winter having migrated from Scandinavia to escape the harsher winters there. They can feed in stubble fields like Chaffinches but are also very fond of Beech masts, which are the seeds of the Beech trees coated in soft hooks. They can often be detected by their loud nasal calls.

Brambling by Speyside Wildlife


These are yellow and black finches that are especially fond of coniferous woodland. Males are a brighter black and yellow, with females and immatures looking duller. They have forked tails and thin bills which allow it to eat seeds and insects. Although Siskins live in Britain all year, their numbers are swelled by Scandinavian migrants that have come to escape the harsher winters there in the hope of having more feeding opportunities. They are particularly partial to bird feeders during this time. When spring comes these Scandinavian migrants will return to where they came from.

Siskin by Speyside Wildlife


One of our most unusual finches. The typical calls heard are a ringing ‘chip chip chip’, which can be quite distinctive when a flock is flying over. They are present throughout the year but are always on the move looking for cones. Their bills are crossed over so they can prize apart the cone segments and use their forked tongue to get at the seeds inside.

Crossbill by Speyside Wildlife


One of our most widespread raptors, one which you’re likely to see in both the higher and lower areas, in hills, fields and forest. It soars on broad wings which are slightly raised, the tail has dark barring on it with a square tip, which can looked rounded when spread. It will flap frequently unlike the larger Golden Eagles. They will also mew loudly as they soar. They like to feed on rabbits and are often seen on the ground in fields looking for earthworms.

Common Buzzard by Speyside Wildlife

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