Animals to see between spring, summer, autumn and winter
We’re hugely lucky in the UK to be surrounded by a variety of landscapes and changeable seasons. What’s more, it means we’re also lucky enough to have a range of wild animals that also call this island home. If you’re an animal lover, we’ve pulled together a season by season guide of critters you can see in different conditions.
Starting with spring, a time when the natural world emerges from the harsh winter, we’ve listed where to go, and when and how to spot them, whilst also respecting and not disturbing their habitats. We’ll then take you on a tour of Britain’s incredible wildlife during the summer, autumn, and chilly winter months.
After a long cold winter, animals begin to come out of their hibernation in spring with bundles of energy and often quite a few offspring. From the buzz of bumblebees and the distinct calls of woodpeckers, there’s so much to discover in this season.
During these months, our pond animals start to lay their eggs too so if you’re close to water, you may hear enhanced croaks and calls. It’s not just amphibians that are expanding their numbers either as typically mammals like sheep, deer, rabbits and even foxes also give birth during this time.
While a baby animal might look very cute, it’s important not to approach them in the wild. Not only could you scare them but their mother may try to defend their offspring from any threat. Planning a nature hike during the blossoming spring months? Here are some of the most common animals you might catch a glimpse of, as well as some that are slightly more elusive:
Where: Woodlands, grasslands and gardens
When: During the day
Woodpeckers certainly put the work in when it comes to making their home! These busy birds use their strong beaks to gradually chip into the wood of trees, creating a nest for their future chicks.
Unlike other species of woodpecker, the green woodpecker has a relatively soft beak and tends to carve its nest in softwood trees. You won’t hear these colourful birds communicating with the woodpecker’s usual distinctive knocking sounds, but on the other hand, their noisy, recognisable calls, called ‘yaffles’, will echo through woods and gardens.
If you’re on the hunt for nesting woodpeckers, look for holes in live trees during the month of May. After their brood hatches, the parent takes half the fledglings to learn where to feed. This draws them into gardens, where they may well be spotted scouring the lawn for their diet of ants.
Best location to spot one: Even if you aren’t in the countryside, there are plenty of places to catch a glimpse of green woodpeckers. Knepp Estate in West Sussex is a particularly good spot, given that it is one of the largest rewilding projects in the whole of the UK.
Where: Sheer cliffs and offshore islands
When: Morning or afternoon
With their colourful beaks, jet black feathers and bright flash of white over the stomach, the Atlantic puffin is instantly recognisable. There are around half a million of these birds in the UK, mainly found around Scotland, Wales and the north of England.
Nesting underground in island burrows or within the cracks of craggy cliffs, the Atlantic puffin is a staunchly colonial bird. On your hunt for them, you’ll be rewarded with not just one, but hundreds of red beaks poking out of their clifftop hiding place.
The peak breeding season for the Atlantic puffin is May to June, as they return to land to nest and raise their young. On your next springtime holiday why not venture up to the north of England or Scotland to seek out their nesting places?
Best location to spot one: Spotting Atlantic puffin is an exciting affair. Take a boat from Seahouses to the Farne Islands, in the North East of England, and make the journey all part of the adventure.
Where: Woodlands and gardens
When: During the day
One of Britain’s busiest pollinators, bumblebees start to appear in the brighter months of spring - with some species of them arriving in our flowerbeds and woodlands as early as February.
There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK, each with unique characteristics and appearances - but all with an important job to do. Bumblebees are responsible for pollinating more than 80% of wildflowers in Europe, as well as helping to pollinate fruits and vegetables that eventually end up in our supermarkets and on our plates.
Despite their importance, many bumblebee species are at risk of becoming extinct as a result of the increased use of pesticides in commercial farming. We can all do our bit by planting more bee-friendly flowers in our gardens - or signing petitions for the banning of harmful pesticides.
Best location to spot one: While most bumblebee species can be found UK-wide, the incredibly rare Great Yellow bumblebee lives in some of the remotest parts of the Outer Hebrides.
Where: Coniferous woodlands
When: Dusk and dawn
Named after their preferred habitat, pine martens are a rare sight and are most commonly found in northern and central Scotland - although you may be lucky enough to spot one in Wales or Northern Ireland. These cute critters are part of the Mustelidae family, which means they’re related to stoats, weasels, and badgers.
Pine martens are quite a hardy species, and can easily survive in the winter seasons without hibernating - thanks to their plush coats that help to keep them nice and toasty.
As their name suggests, your best bet when it comes to spotting a pine marten out in the wild is to head to a coniferous woodland. They’re most active in the summer months, during the quieter hours of dusk and dawn.
Best location to spot one: One of the best places to spot a pine marten is the Galloway Forest Park, in Dumfries and Galloway. There are some seriously gorgeous walking trails through the park, with three visitor centres along the way.
With the temperature rising again, the UK’s animals tend to be most active during the summer months. Searching for food, providing for their young and even just wandering around - you’ve got a great chance at seeing lots of different mammals, birds and even reptiles.
In some of the wetland and dark forests, you may even see the odd snake or two! Cold-blooded animals love the warm weather but be careful not to interrupt them or get in their way.
Whatever time of year you’re planning your next staycation, why not head off in search of some of the local inhabitants? Perhaps you could play a game of wildlife bingo or even snap away and make next year’s family calendar. One thing’s for sure, you’re likely to see plenty of different types - just be sure to leave them as you find them and respect their natural habitats.
Head out this summer, and you might be lucky enough to spot some of these lovely birds and mammals:
Where: Off the coast of Scotland and Cornwall
When: In the calm seas of the morning
Minke whales are one of the most commonly sighted whale species around the British Isles, in part because their playful and curious nature often brings them up close to boats.
During the summer months, minke whales take refuge in the cooler waters of the north, and the west coast of Scotland is a particularly lively place to spot them, including around the smaller islands.
Although minke whales are under threat, continually hunted for their meat and threatened by large scale fishing, organisations such as the UK’s WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) are doing great things to lobby against whaling, and for changes to fishing regulations. Their research and conservation efforts are essential to the future survival of these mighty creatures.
Best location to spot one: The whale watching in the Outer Hebrides is excellent, and the possibilities of spotting from the shoreline are high. Follow the Hebridean Whale Trail to find the best locations.
Where: Around the coast
When: In the morning calm
Bottlenose dolphins are the most familiar of the UK’s dolphin population, with their short, stubby mouth and pointed-tip dorsal fin. While they can be seen in several places all around the UK’s coastline, there are only two resident pods; in the Moray Firth, Scotland, and along the coast of West Wales.
The summer months are the best time to see bottlenose dolphins when sociable transient pods join residents. Often playing together in groups of 15 or more, each encounter demonstrates their love of companionship and cooperation.
Dolphins are one of the most intelligent and sophisticated animals in the world. Surviving on tasty Scottish salmon, or squid and crustaceans, they hunt together as a group, using their distinctive clicking calls to communicate. Those lucky enough to witness this will be in for the experience of a lifetime.
Best location to spot one: As home to one of the UK’s only resident bottlenose dolphin pods, the Moray Firth is quite an unbeatable location.
Where: Woodlands, gardens and meadows
When: On warm summer evenings
Common pipistrelles are small bats with a wingspan of just 23 centimetres and weighing an average of just eight grams - much smaller than other bats in the UK, such as the Leisler's bat and Noctule species.
You can usually see them swooping about at dusk, feeding on flying insects such as moths and gnats. They typically roost in tree holes, but can also be found in barns and roofs of homes.
As these little bats swoop around, they emit a cry which has such a high frequency that it cannot be picked up by the human ear. However, you can attach a ‘bat detector’ onto your phone which allows you to detect nearby bats with an ultrasonic microphone.
Best location to spot one: While you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a swooping pipistrelle from your own garden, an excellent place to spot these busy little bats is Boilton Wood at the Brockholes Nature Reserve in Lancashire.
Where: Woodlands, grasslands, and moorlands
When: Dusk and dawn
As the only remaining native feline found in Britain, it’s no surprise that the Scottish wildcat makes itself scarce among the wild woodlands and moorlands of Scotland.
One of just three mammals in the UK to be classified as ‘Critically Endangered’, these wild cats are confined to a particular part of the country - in the more remote areas above the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
No larger than a domestic house cat, these elusive felines are often hard to tell apart from a household moggy or a feral cat. Some of the main differences to look out for are their particularly bushy tails and tabby-like fur patterns with unbroken stripes.
Best location to spot one: If you are very lucky, you may be able to catch sight of a Scottish wildcat on the rural outskirts of Glasgow and Edinburgh. As they are a critically endangered species, your best bet is along the woodland trail at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kincraig.
In September, October and November, you might discover squirrels filling up on nuts and seeds, badgers seeking out earthworms, and the twit-twoo of a tawny owl somewhere up above. This is the time that animals seek food for the cooler months ahead. Cold-blooded creatures begin to slow down too.
Some of the most common animals to keep a lookout for include red squirrels, deer and geese. In September and October, you might find squirrels filling up on nuts and seeds to increase their body fat, storing extra portions in their burrow or even underground.
It’s during these months that birds like geese will begin their journey to a warm country so you might hear a lot of squawking and see a huge amount flying as a pack.
Get your boots on and explore the changing landscapes of autumn, while keeping your eyes peeled for these animals along the way:
Where: Coniferous woodlands
When: Mornings and late afternoons
Once prevalent in our woodland areas, the red squirrel is a rare sight these days, having been pushed out of its native habitat by the invasive grey variety. Eagle-eyed spotters may see a flash of red disappearing through the trees in parts of northern England, Scotland, and the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales.
Feeding primarily on nuts and seeds, these russet-tinted critters survive best in carefully managed woodland areas with a variety of trees providing the right sustenance for them. Their survival relies on wildlife protection organisations to ensure that grey squirrels are not attracted to the area.
For the best chance of a sighting, stay in tune with the sounds of the forest. You might just make out a chattering call in the distance, the rustle of the canopy and the dropping of pine cones on the ground!
Best location to spot one: Newborough Forest, in Anglesey, has recently managed to eliminate its grey squirrel population, making it an excellent place to see the rarer red squirrel scampering up the pines!
When: During the nighttime
While it can be difficult to spot a tawny owl, their ‘twit-twoo’ call is unmistakable. These nocturnal birds typically nest in woodlands across Britain, but can sometimes be found in suburban gardens.
Other popular species of owl found in UK woodlands include barn owls and long-eared owls - both with their own unique characteristics and calls. Barn owls are recognised by their white, heart-shaped faces, while long-eared owls have ear-like tufts on either side of their head, which raise when the owl becomes alarmed.
Best location to spot one: With a blend of ancient oak woodland and open heathland, the Arne Nature Reserve in Dorset is a wonderful place to spot a tawny owl in its natural habitat.
Where: Woodlands, grasslands and moorlands
When: During the nighttime
Another animal that’s best seen at night, the European badger holds the title of Britain’s largest land predator. These striped critters can eat hundreds of earthworms in a single night.
If you happen to see a badger sett, it’s important to keep your distance and to avoid disturbing it - especially if you are walking with your dog. While it’s exciting to discover one in the wild, we’d also advise that you do not share the location of the sett as there are some individuals who target them for malicious purposes.
Best location to spot one: As badgers can be targeted, one of the best ways to see these lovely animals up close is by booking a private viewing at the Margaret Grimwade Badger Hide in Suffolk.
Where: Rocky coastline
When: In the afternoon
The UK is home to almost 50% of the world’s grey seal population, with the other half spread between Canada, Scandinavia and Ireland. They spend much of the year hunting fish at sea, coming into shore around autumn to have their fluffy white pups.
While a beach full of plump, ungainly seals doesn’t look like the epitome of grace and beauty, in the water these creatures really come into their own. Able to dive to over 120 metres, seals twirl, flip and glide around each other like champion ballroom dancers, with the speed of a dart.
The process of seals coming out to rest on the rocky shoreline is called ‘hauling out’. If you come across a seal colony hauled out, make sure to keep a safe distance, whether walking on the beach or floating past in a kayak.
Best location to spot one: Norfolk is a particular favourite for seal spotting, with no location so prevalent as the marvellous Blakeney Point, home to the largest colony in England.
The UK’s cold weather is a time for animals to survive the winter. Many will have built up burrows and nests to keep warm in and will only leave to get more food. Sightings of animals and plants might be more scarce in these months, but there’s still plenty going on - albeit underground.
If you do stumble across a nest or underground hideaway, it’s important not to disturb the animals though as this can actually have an impact on their overall health.
Brave the cool winter weather and try to tick these animal sightings off of your list:
Where: Mountains and heathland
When: During the day
Mountain hares typically live among the cold surroundings of the Scottish Highlands and in the colder parts of Northern England, with their fur turning white in the winter months - a natural camouflage against predators.
These hares are most easily identified in the springtime. After the winter snow has melted, their white coats stand out against the blossoming landscapes of the Highlands.
Best location to spot one: If you are looking to catch a glimpse of a mountain hare, then one of the best places to look is the dramatic Cairngorms National Park, in the eastern Highlands of Scotland.
Where: Woodlands and gardens
When: During the day
Although robins can be heard singing year-round, they’ve become synonymous with the festive season. These colourful birds can be seen hopping from branch to branch finding food, in search of seeds and insects. Very curious and often friendly, these clever birds follow large mammals to find new food sources - which is why you might find one accompanying you from a distance.
Although they may look sweet, robins are a particularly territorial bird species. If they feel like an intruder is approaching, they will soon try to drive them away - especially if it is a competing bird!
Best location to spot one: Robins can be found all across the UK, and chances are you’ll be able to see one in your own garden. If you’re looking to get out and explore some nature reserves, then Chapel Wood in Braunton is a lovely place to spot these cute birds.
Where: Woodlands, open fields and gardens
When: During the nighttime
A wilder member of the dog family, red foxes can be seen stalking through fields - and even city streets and gardens - in search of dinner. They tend to feed on rabbits and other small game, but they can be incredibly flexible if pickings are slim.
While foxes may appear to be more closely related to dogs, they actually share a lot of characteristics with the household cat - from their retractable claws to their solitary hunting habits.
Best location to spot one: Llynclys Common in Shropshire is a haven for wild animals and birds, including red foxes. From deep woodlands to sun-kissed meadows, this reserve is incredibly varied - perfect for adventures!
Where: Gardens, reedbeds and even city centres
When: During the day
Living up to its name, the Common Starling is found across almost the entire United Kingdom, aside from the Scottish Highlands. Typically found in gardens, their glossy purple and green feathers are instantly recognisable.
Starlings are often found in flocks. This has led to the phenomena of starling ‘murmurations’ - the magical event of thousands of starlings taking to the skies, wheeling and diving in a mass formation. The aerial performance tends to happen from November, when larger groups of starlings congregate to roost, even reaching 100,000 in some areas.
Flocks of starling tend to congregate for warmth and to share information on food sources. Relying mainly on crane fly larvae in spring, they switch to seeds and berries in summer and autumn. They are a regular fixture at bird feeders, which is a great way to entice their beautiful plumage into your garden.
Best location to spot one: The ultimate wildlife goal for a starling spotter is to witness a murmuration. The RSPB Saltholme is one likely spot, where winter flocks soar together into the skies, before going into the reedbeds to roost.
If you’d like to get involved with the conversation of Britain’s wildlife, there are lots of wildlife groups that you can join. Here are some of the most popular:
The Wildlife Trust has over 850,000 members and more than 35,000 volunteers, helping to keep their local areas as natural and as wild as they should be. The charity consists of 46 Wildlife Trusts that span across the UK, from Cornwall to Cumbria. You can apply for a membership and look for local volunteering opportunities on their website here.
Established in 1889, the RSPB is dedicated to the protection of Britain’s birds. The charity is best known for its nature reserves in some of the UK’s most scenic destinations. By becoming a member, you’ll receive unlimited entry to more than 170 reserves across the country, while your contributions will help towards their preservation. You can find out more about joining on their website here.
The Conservation Volunteers is a UK-wide charity focusing on creating more green spaces. From tree planting in wild woodlands to creating ponds in community gardens, their hard work is not only beneficial for the local residents who get to enjoy the newly-transformed spaces, but also for Britain’s wildlife. You can find out how to get involved with their regional community groups on their website here.
Heading out in search of Britain’s wildlife? Whether you’re just popping out for an afternoon stroll or planning on spending the whole day in your local woodland or country park, we’ve put together a list of the most essential items to take with you: