Scottish Wildlife Spotting on Islay

Scottish stag in a herd in winter

Scottish Wildlife

Islay is home to some truly magnificent natural beauty and Scottish wildlife. The island is a hot spot for wildlife and birdwatchers throughout the world and renowned for its offering of diverse and rare wild inhabitants. Planning a trip to Islay? Keep reading to find out more about wildlife spotting on Islay.

Grey Seals

Islay is the perfect place to observe grey seals in their natural habitat. With a colony native to the island, the seals have become fairly accustomed to a human presence and as such are happy to come within close proximity. Be warned – grey seals have a nasty bite and will not stop at anything to protect their young. It’s always important to remember never to approach a seal pup, even if it’s on its own as if your scent transfers to them. When the mother seal returns, she is likely to reject her pup. If you’re worried that a seal pup has been abandoned, stay downwind, to prevent your scent scaring away the mother and keep an eye on the baby. If you’re confident no mother is returning, then call the Scottish SPCA on 0300 0999 999.

The best places to spot grey seals on the island are Port Wemyss and Portnahaven. You may also see them around the bays between Lagavulin and Artalla. Seals can also be found at Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve.

Grey seal swimming in the sea in Scotland
Keep an eye out for seals in the water around Islay.


When you’re on the Isle of Islay, part of the excitement of exploring Scottish wildlife is the chance to spot whales swimming in the nearby waters. From The Oa Nature Reserve, you can catch a glimpse of humpback whales, killer whales and minke whales. These massive creatures travel huge distances, swimming north or south, or crossing the wide Atlantic and often pass by our Scottish shores during their migrations.

Humpback whales breaching along the coast of Scotland
The Oa is right at the end of the Hebrides, facing Northern Ireland and the Atlantic Ocean.


If you’re lucky while checking out the Scottish wildlife around Islay, you might spot some dolphins playing in the waves. These amazing creatures are a joy to watch as they leap and swim. Keep your eyes peeled when you’re near the coast and you might just catch a glimpse of them having a blast in their natural habitat. Seeing dolphins off Islay’s shores is a special moment that you won’t forget!

Wild Bottlenose Dolphins Jumping Out Of The Sea
Dolphins are frequently seen around Port Ellen, also in Kilnaughton Bay.


Port Askaig, on Islay’s coast, gives a great view of the Sound of Islay This is a narrow strip of water between the neighbouring islands. The tides here are strong, making it a busy spot where Scottish wildlife thrives. Among the creatures you might spot are Harbour Porpoises. These small but clever animals are expert hunters, hardly ever missing their prey. They’re less than 2 meters long, so they can be tricky to spot, but watch for their curved backs and triangle-shaped fins as they swim through the Sound of Islay.

Common or Harbour Porpoise looking out of the sea
You’ll find Porpoises swimming through the Sound of Islay water.

Back on land…

Bird Watching

On the Scottish island of Islay, there are around 100 different types of birds that inhabit here from Golden Eagles soaring overhead to Puffins nesting along the coastline. Bird watching is the perfect pastime when visiting Islay. Loch Gruinart Reserve is a great place to take your binoculars and see a wide range of wild birds on the moorlands. Whether you’re a pro at spotting birds or just starting out, Islay’s beaches, moors and lakes are perfect for exploring Scottish wildlife.

A White Tailed Sea Eagle swooping over the sea with a fish in its claws
Golden Eagles soar above the Oa year-round, making it a prime spot for visitors to catch sight of these birds of prey.

European Otters

If you’re seeking ot-ta wildlife, then Islay has a treat in store for you! A bad pun aside, Islay is a prime place to spot a European otter or two! The otters on the island are notoriously tricky to spot. If you wait a while, you are likely to be rewarded for your patience. You might spot them on the north of Bunnahabain, or on the Caol Ila beach.

Brown otter sitting on a rock
Otters live near streams in almost any location on the island.


Of course, no trip to the Scottish Highlands and Islands would be complete without spotting a stag! You may spot these majestic creatures throughout the island, but they can be very shy! The island is home to three species of deer – Fallow, Roe and Red deer. These species can be found all over the island and are a great challenge for those looking to add to their photography bucket list.

Roe Deer on a sunny day Islay Scotland
Roe Deer on a sunny day in Islay.

Brown Hare

The beautiful species of brown hare are all over the island. Easily spooked like the deer on Islay, the best time to sneak a peek at a brown hare is during dusk in the vicinity of Loch Gorm. Take things slow on the road as these adorable mammals may jump out onto the road! If you’re lucky, you may even be privileged to watch the hares play together in groups.

A brown hare running
Watch out for hares across the island.


Stoats are pretty common on Islay and they are interesting creatures. Some people think Islay stoats are a bit different from others and a species of their own, but not everyone agrees. Even though we don’t get much snow here, stoats on the Isle of Islay turn white in the winter. Keep an eye out for stoats when you’re exploring Islay’s countryside!

A Stoat, Mustela erminea standing up on it's back legs between the grass.
Stoats are very secretive and hard to spot.

Frogs and Toads

Frogs and toads are pretty common on Islay. You can find the Common Toad and the Common Frog all over the place. You might hear their croaking sounds during the breeding season. These amphibians are a sign that Islay’s ecosystem is healthy. So, when you’re out exploring the island, keep an eye out for these little guys hopping around in ponds and marshes.

european common toad (bufo bufo) looking out of in shallow water.
Spot toads and frogs in the marshes around Islay.

Islay Accommodation

At Islay Cottages, we’re passionate about sharing the beauty and diversity of Scottish wildlife with our guests. Are you planning a trip to do some wildlife spotting on Islay? Why not book in and stay at one of our beautiful self-catering cottages?
Get in touch to find out more about booking with us.

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