Inland Birds

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  • The elusive capercaillie displaying a lek at RSPB Abernethy © Chris Gomersall (
    A capercaillie in the woodlands of RSPB Abernethy © Chris Gomersall (
  • A male ptarmigan with white plumage at Cairngorms National Park, Highlands © Tom Marshall (
    A male ptarmigan at Cairngorms National Park, Highlands © Tom Marshall (

From treeless tundra, moors and heaths to deep native pinewood forests and stark mountain sides, Scotland's inland birds can be seen in a variety of terrains.

Visit reserves, national parks and woodlands for the best chance of catching a glimpse of wild birds in habitats that provide them with the greatest protection. As they are skilled at blending in with their environments, it’s worthwhile bringing a pair of binoculars to help you spot them.


The elusive capercaillie is an impressive woodland bird and is the largest member of the grouse family. Usually the males are somewhat bigger than the females and are unmistakable as they have a distinctive appearance - dark grey and brown feathers with a metallic green breast and, above each eye, bright red flash. The hen is petit in comparison and less distinguished; a brown back with orange speckles and a lighter coloured, yellowish underside. The cocks, in particular, are Scottish icons, well known for their strutting mating dance and burbling call, called a lek.

With only an estimated 1,000 birds remaining in Scotland, conservation efforts are currently targeted at this unique species.  The capercaillie likes mature Scots pine forests with an undergrowth of heather, blaeberry or bilberry and crowberry, and are largely confined to the remaining areas of ancient Caledonian pine forest.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn (particulary during this season after chicks have fledged), winter

Where to see this species:  Pine forests in the Cairngorms, the Highlands and Perthshire.


The charming ptarmigan is a plump, round game bird with a short beak. Its name comes from the Gaelic word ‘tàrmachan’, the translation of which is ‘croaker’, alluding to the male’s distinctive song. The ptarmigan is found in the very highest mountains of Scotland and changes colour when winter sets in, transforming from its autumn colours of grey and brown to a brilliant winter white. 

This sedentary bird can be found nesting in Arctic-like landscape and can be sighted all year round. You might spot them on nature reserves with high altitudes.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn, winter

Where to see this species: High mountains in the Highlands


Black grouse

The black grouse males are distinguished by their sleek black feathers which cover their entire body, except for the red wattle over their eye and a striking white stripe which is visible along each wing when in flight. They have a lyre-shaped tail which is fanned out and raised to show white under-tail feathers when displaying, whilst the smaller females have a slightly notched tail and are grey-brown in colour. This species can be found all across Scotland on upland moorland and hill farms and you’ll find that they can be sighted all year round. Numbers of black grouse are in decline and so if you are keen to see these birds, have a look at the RSPB guidelines for advice on responsible grouse watching.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn, winter

Where to see this species: Throughout Scotland on farmland and moorland with nearby forestry or scattered trees.

Red grouse

The red grouse is the most common type of grouse and is a medium-sized game bird. It has a plump body, a short tail and a lightly hook-tipped bill. Reddish-chestnut brown in colour, these birds breed throughout the upland areas of Scotland and reside there all year round, travelling very little in their lives.  They have a loud distinctive guttural call which when heard is instantly recognizable.

When to see this species: spring, summer, autumn, winter

Where to see this species: On upland heather moors throughout Scotland.