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  • Writer's pictureSpeyside Wildlife

Winter Survival for Wildlife in the Cairngorms

Winter is a harsh time for all, especially the wildlife that calls the Cairngorms home. With short daylight hours, gale force winds and layers of ice and snow, making searching for food a daily battle. As humans, we adapt to the changeable weather by wearing layers of clothes, seeking shelter indoors and keeping warm in front of the fire and wildlife have similar adaptations in order to get extra warmth, shelter and food.

Ptarmigan in the snow (GB)


 Ptarmigan spend their time high up in the Cairngorms mountains, seeking shelter in lower rocky terrain in the snow. Their feathers are specially designed to adapt to the environment, turning to a camouflaged pure white in the Winter, blending in perfectly to the snow. To keep them warm, their feathers cover every area of their body, including their eyelids, nostrils and legs. Their feet are spread wide, covered in thick white feathers that act like snowshoes in order to walk over the softest snow. Their strong legs mean that they can dig in deep snow to reach frozen berries and vegetation to eat.

Camouflaged Mountain Hare (Kenny M)

Mountain Hare

The Mountain Hare, as the name suggests, spend their days high up in the hills throughout the year. Their adaptation to the Winter conditions is like Ptarmigan, where their fur thickens and turns to a grey/white colour to camouflage into their surroundings, to avoid the eye of any passing Eagles. As they shelter in ‘forms’ in the snow, their rounded bodies and short ears protect them loosing too much body heat in order to keep warm. The photo above taken on a recent Day Guide with Speyside Wil

Red Squirrels and other mammals also adapt by growing thicker coats in the Winter, with the Squirrel modelling extra ear tufts and fluffier tails. The Red Squirrel also ‘cache’ their food in the Autumn and through Winter so that they can easily find food when the weather is at its harshest.

Snow Bunting

With an all year-round flock of Snow Bunting on the Cairngorms, it is no surprise that they have learned how to live in this environment. With their white, black, pinkie colours these buntings are constantly on the move in search of food and shelter, using the Cairngorms car park often as a cafe where humans have dropped food. By staying in a flock, constantly moving and using each other’s body heat for warmth they can survive these cold conditions.

Snow Bunting, Cairngorms (KateM)

With Winter conditions predicated to last into April, you can still have your chance to see these resilient animals in the Cairngorms on one our tailormade Day Guides.

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