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Five of the most beautiful birds you can find in Scotland

Written by Fiona

October 26 2021

Scotland might be a small country but it has a hugely diverse landscape – and an equally amazing variety of flora and fauna. It may not be the most obvious choice as one of the top destinations for a wildlife holiday, but perhaps it should be.

There are reported to be more than 90,000 species of animals and insects, including about 500 types of birds. The species of birds found in Scotland vary from typical garden types, such as sparrows and chaffinch, to the white tailed eagle, which is the largest bird of prey in the UK.

Find out more about Scotland’s feathered wildlife and five more stunning birds you can spot. 

Scotland’s wildlife situation today

Scotland’s wildlife is very diverse and features pine martens, humpback whales, salmon, red squirrels, red deer, puffins, and more rarely sighted capercaillie and the Scottish wildcat.

There have been attempts to reintroduce lost species with much talk about welcoming wolves back into the Highlands at some point. 

The Scottish Wildlife Trust believes in reintroducing lost species back to the country, and animals such as the lynx and beaver could help restore balance to the natural ecosystem.

When it comes to the birds of Scotland, while there are hundreds of species, too many of them are persecuted and threatened. The capercaillie, which is native to Scotland, is one of the rarest birds in the UK. However, there are also positives to look at.

The red kite is one of the biggest success stories when it comes to seeing an endangered bird recover strongly. For bird lovers, Scotland has some interesting species and some truly beautiful ones too. Below are five of the best. 

Five beautiful birds to spot in Scotland

For bird lovers, the list below might be controversial, but they are listed here due to their various merits. This might be to do with rarity, unusual features, or perhaps just sheer beauty.

Birds help to control the populations of both rodents and insects. They help to pollinate and spread seeds across the countryside. It may have been Portuguese traders who introduced chillies to India, but it was birds who helped them spread across more than one continent.

Thankfully there are many enthusiasts from amateurs to the scientific community committed to looking after birds and their environment. Websites such as Meadowia are filled with information about butterflies, birds, English meadows and the Scottish Uplands. 

Male dotterel.

The Dotterel

When it comes to nature, the male is often far brighter and more attractive than the female. The male will often have appendages such as antlers or manes, whereas the female will be plainer. This mostly applies to the bird world, too.

The dotterel, however, is one of the few species where this rule doesn’t apply. This bird features an orange-red chest with white stripes over the eyes. The female has brighter colouring than the male, and there is another interesting role reversal, too.

While the dotterel is not the most striking bird, they are on this list because they are at risk and they carry out their roles differently from most other birds. When it comes time to incubate eggs and subsequently raise the young, it is the male’s job.

Sadly, climate change has pushed the dotterel’s population into decline. They can now only be found breeding in the highest of the Scottish mountains. It may not be long before they are no longer seen at all in Scotland. 

Golden Eagle

While the white tailed eagle is Scotland’s biggest bird of prey, and the fourth largest eagle in the world, the golden eagle is perhaps the most famous.

The term “golden” comes from the sheen these incredible predators have on the back of their heads and necks. The rest of their feathers are normally dark brown, but this doesn’t detract from their beauty.

They are without a doubt the number one predatory bird in Scotland. Sadly, though, the number one predator of these birds has been humans over the years.

Golden eagles will mate, if not for life, then for at least many years, and, fortunately, despite man’s best efforts, there is a strong population in Scotland today.

According to the Scottish Raptor Study Group, there are more than 400 pairs of golden eagles soaring across the skies of Scotland now.

The Goshawk

Goshawks are another of the more persecuted birds in Scotland. Around 100 years ago, there were no goshawks left in Scotland after being driven to extinction.

Now, though, they join the red kite as being one of the great stories of hope when it comes to nature fighting back. The goshawk is a striking, magnificent-looking bird of prey. They are fierce, fast, agile, and they can catch prey while in mid-flight. 

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

One of the most striking birds in Scotland today is the greater spotted woodpecker. This largely black and white bird features a deep red under the tail and can be heard “drumming” in the spring to attract a mate and to mark out territory.

Birdwatchers can find this species of woodpecker across most of mainland Scotland all year round. It is unlikely to be found on any of the Scottish islands or in the far north of the country though. 

Black Grouse

Unfortunately, this is another bird that is under threat today in Scotland. The male of this species of grouse has highly attractive blue-black feathers and red eye patches. When they fly, white bars are visible on their wings also.

When the males court the females of the species they strut around fanning their feathers to impress potential mates. Black grouse are also attractive to goshawks and need to be wary of these and other birds of prey.

Bird lovers can find black grouse on moorlands and in heaths. During the winter they will be more likely to be found in forests where they will move to with their flock. 

Best places to find Scotland’s birds

If you are keen on bird spotting and getting into the Scottish countryside, then you may be interested in knowing the best spots to visit.

One of the ways to get your family outdoors is through a shared love of nature and these sites have lots to offer. Here are some of the best bird spotting areas in Scotland.

  • Cairngorms National Park
  • Glen Affric National Nature Reserve
  • Scottish Sea Bird Centre
  • RSPB Abernethy Forest Nature Reserve

If you can’t travel too far, then explore your local area. While you may not spot a golden eagle, there are sure to be many species of birds to discover. 


Scotland is blessed with an abundance of bird species. Many of them are indeed being watched with caution as populations decline, but there are true success stories also.

Some species such as the kestrel have adapted well to changing times, and others such as the red kite have bounced back.

Hopefully, Scotland’s many species of birds will continue to grace the skies and wow bird lovers for centuries to come.

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