The Isle of Mull is one of the UK’s premier wildlife-watching destinations. Covering an area of around 875 km², it’s the third-largest island in Scotland. Mull is encircled by more than 300 miles of coastline that provide picturesque views of the Hebrides and Highlands. Famed for its spectacular, tranquil beauty, the island is also a hotspot for wildlife. Besides the huge colony of puffins, red-breasted mergansers, hen harriers, and ringed plovers, it’s also home to mammals such as grey seals, playful otters, and whales and dolphins. However, the undoubted highlight is the chance to see the two largest birds in the country – the majestic white-tailed and golden eagle. It isn’t called ‘Eagle Island’ for nothing!
Average rating: 4.5 (very good)
Average cost: to take the ferry a standard car with two adult passengers costs around $33 for a return journey. Like everywhere in Scotland it’s free to wild camp. Your costs are likely to depend on where you stay, what you eat, and whether you pay for wildlife tours. Most people need a car to get around which can cost around $25 a day.
Best time to visit: April – September is the best time to see the incredible bird life on Mull, if you want to see puffins head during April – July.
How to get there: the most direct route to Mull is by ferry from Oban, which drops you at Craignure. The journey takes around 45 minutes. You can also get to Mull from Lochaline and Kilchoan on Morvern and Ardnamurchan.
Typical activities: bird watching, boat trip, hiking
Number of reports: 4
Wildlife in Mull
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
golden eagle – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/4) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Mull and the smaller islands in the Inner Hebrides have one of the highest concentrations of golden eagles in Europe, and possibly the world. There are around 20 breeding pairs on the island although they are not as common or easily seen as the white-tailed eagles. The breeding season runs from May to July and there are a number of wildlife tours which offer the chance to see them. Alternatively, you can join the Mull Eagle Watch.
Golden and white-tailed eagles are often seen together on Mull but it’s easy to tell them apart. White-tailed eagles are bigger, have broader wings, and wedge-shaped tails. Their heads are a pale colour and their tails are white. Golden eagles, on the other hand, have smaller heads and longer tails. Their heads are golden and their tails dark. It can be trickier to tell juveniles apart as they can have a broad white band on their tails.
Puffin – 50% of WildSide Users (2/4) reported sightings
Mull and the surrounding islands are home to thousands of seabirds – including a huge colony of Atlantic puffins. Turus Mara runs boat trips from Mull to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles where you can get amongst crowds of inquisitive puffins. Their lack of fear of humans means it’s possible to get up close to the birds. The best time to see them is from mid-April until early August. During this time sightings are pretty much guaranteed. If you really want to see puffins up close check out the Big Bird tour which spends four hours on Lunga in the Treshnish Isles to give you as much time as possible with these beautiful birds.
White-tailed eagle – 50% of WildSide Users (2/4) reported sightings
White-tailed eagles became extinct in the UK in 1918 due to hunting and habitat loss. In 1975 they were reintroduced to the Isle of Rum in Scotland. Over time the population grew and they spread to Mull. Since their arrival, Mull has become an eagle watching destination. With one report finding that the eagles bring in around £5 million each year and support 110 jobs.
The best way to see the eagles is to join the Mull Eagle Watch – a protection and public viewing partnership between Forestry and Land Scotland, RSPB, the Mull & Iona Community Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Police Scotland. Each year from April to September, Mull Eagle Watch offers ranger-guided visits to view white-tailed eagles. The location of the tours changes by the season so check out their website for the latest details. Tickets cost around $13 for visitors and are free for locals. If you head there in April the adults are sitting on eggs, from May to July the chicks are in the nests, and from August onwards the chicks have usually fledged but are still in the area.
Eurasian Otter – 25% of WildSide Users (1/4) reported sightings
Eurasian otters can be encountered along much of Mull’s coastline. Wherever seaweed is draped on rocks, otters are likely to be close by. They rest in the seaweed and catch their food in and around it too. Otters can be difficult to spot as their dark brown coats mean they’re expertly camouflaged. It’s sometimes easier to spot them swimming or diving with a flick of their long tails. With many of Mull’s roads hugging the coastline, otters can sometimes be spotted from your car. What’s more, a car can serve as a mobile hide. If looking for otters on foot, however, be very quiet and blend into your surroundings as much as possible. Wear dark clothing and move slowly, so your silhouette doesn’t break the horizon. Coastal otters such as those on Mull can be observed at any time of day, although typically rest at high tide.
Hen Harrier – 0% OF WildSide Users (0/4) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Though famed for its eagles, Mull also offers the chance to see another of the UK’s most charismatic raptors – the hen harrier. Unfortunately, they are an increasingly rare sight in the UK. They hang on in Mull as the pressures responsible for their decline are largely absent. While they are more widespread in winter, with individuals frequenting lowland marshes throughout Britain, hen harriers can regularly be seen quartering above open moorland in summer. A relative stronghold, Mull is home to several breeding pairs. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest tours run by Nature Scotland give you a good chance of seeing these beautiful birds. If you’re lucky you may even be treated to a ‘sky-dance’ – an acrobatic display performed by male hen harriers when trying to win a mate.
Red-breasted merganser – 25% of WildSide Users (1/4) reported sightings
Red-breasted mergansers breed on Mull and remain throughout the winter months. A small, diving sea-duck, these birds are often seen on the shores of Loch Scridain during the summer. Although, they can be observed almost anywhere if luck is on your side. While mergansers are easily spooked, excellent views of birds preoccupied with fishing can be obtained, providing you remain still, low, and a suitable distance ahead of the birds’ direction of travel. In winter, the local population increases with migrant mergansers joining the residents to take refuge in the sheltered sea lochs.
Ringed plover – 25% of WIldSide USers (1/4) reported sightings
Primarily a bird of sandy or pebble shorelines, ringed plovers can be encountered around much of the UK’s coast. The west coast of Scotland in particular, with its many islands and sheltered bays, provides great opportunities to view them. On Mull, these birds can be found when driving coastal roads. They are often seen running rather than flying although they frequently pause to survey their surroundings. A ground-nesting bird, adults are well camouflaged when incubating eggs or young. If a potential predator gets too close, they run off feigning injury to draw the threat away. Once the predator has been led astray, the plover flies out of reach and returns to the nest.
Grey Seal – 25% of WildSide Users (1/4) reported sightings
The UK is home to over 50% of the world’s Atlantic grey seals, with the Hebrides supporting the largest colony in the British Isles. The Treshnish Isles off Mull, are a particularly important site. Around Mull, grey seals tend to be seen on the outer islands such as the Treshnish Isles and the Cairns of Coll. So your best chances of seeing these creatures are to join one of the many boat trips. Mull is also home to the harbour or common seal although they are less common. As a general rule of thumb for seal spotting on Mull, if you see seals basking on rocky islands just offshore, they are usually harbour seals. If you are further out they are usually greys.
Photo credit: WildSide team member Elizabeth Hyatt