The Isle of Mull is one of the UK’s premier wildlife watching destinations. Covering an area of around 875 km², Mull is the second-largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Located off the west coast of Scotland, it is accessible by ferry from the ports of Oban and Lochaline. Famed for its spectacular, tranquil beauty, the island is also a hotspot for wildlife. Besides the huge colony of puffins , red-breasted mergansers, and playful otters, 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: 4.3 (very good)
Average spend per person: $204 ($35 – $373)
Number of reports: 3
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
Typical activities: bird watching, boat trip, hiking
Wildlife in Mull
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are as follows:
Eurasian Otter – 33% of visitors (1/3) reported sightings
Otters can be encountered along much of Mull’s coastline. Wherever seaweed is draped amongst shoreline rocks, an otter is likely not to be far away. They rest in the seaweed and catch a great deal of their food in and around it too. Although, if still, they can be difficult to spot as their dark brown coats mean they’re expertly camouflaged. It is sometimes easier to spot otters swimming just beyond the shore, diving with a characteristic flick of their long tail. With many of Mull’s roads hugging the coastline, otters can sometimes be spotted from a car. What’s more, a car can serve as an excellent mobile hide. If viewing Mull’s otters on foot, however, be very quiet and blend into your surroundings as much as possible. Wear dark clothing and move slowly, ensuring your silhouette doesn’t break the horizon. Coastline-based otters, such as those on Mull, can be observed at any time of day, though typically rest at high tide.
golden eagle – 0% OF VISITORS (0/3) 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 (see below for further details).
Golden and white-tailed eagles are often seen together on Mull but it is 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. Although juvenilles can have a broad white band on their tails, particularly first winter birds.
Puffin – 33% of visitors (1/3) reported sightings
Mull and the surrounding islands are home to thousands of seabirds – including a huge colony of Atlantic puffins. Turus Mara run 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 is possible to get up close to the birds. The best time to see them is from mid April until ealy 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.
Red-breasted merganser – 33% of visitors (1/3) reporter 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; though, can be observed almost anywhere if luck is on side. While mergansers are easily spooked, excellent views of birds preoccupied with fishing can be obtained, providing the observer remains still, low, and positions themselves 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.
White-tailed eagle – 66% of visitors (2/3) reported sightings
White-tailed eagles became in 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.