Winter Wildllife

Learn more about the Winter Wildlife on Bennachie and the surrounding areas.

Information and Activities

Tawny Owls

Tawny owls are our most familiar owl, and Jock loves to hear them calling in winter. The male has the classic owl ‘hoot’, beginning with a drawn ‘hoooo’ followed by a short pause, before a softer ‘hi’ and then a resonant ‘huhuhuhooooo’. The female’s call is a ‘keewik’. A resident pair well often duet.

Have a listen by watching this video.

Hearing the tawny owls calling is always one of the best sounds of winter for Jock. That’s because the adult owls are reinforcing their territories at the beginning of winter, calling often. Young tawnys are reaching maturity and are looking for new homes. Adults tend to stay inside their 12-20 hectares (approximately 45-75 football pitches) territories, which they defend throughout winter.

Tawny owls live about 4 years, and the young birds are chased away from the breeding ground in autumn, having to do their best to survive on their own through the winter. It’s not easy for those young birds as when they call to try to find a mate, they alert the resident adults who will try to chase them out.

What Do Tawny Owls Eat?

Tawnys are brilliant hunters and will take small mammals like woodmice, voles, small birds, frogs, insects, worms and even fish.

About breeding

In courtship feeding from December-February the male brings extra food to his much bigger mate. This is to give them a closer bond and to make sure she’s in good condition for an early start to breeding.

They like to nest in tree cavities or in old crow nests. One clutch of eggs is laid in late winter or early spring.

To find out more about tawny owls visit RSPB Tawny Own web site.

An Introduction to the Tawny Owl - by Wild Owl
Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl
Credit Mark Johnson
(Select Image To See Larger Image)
Tawny Owl
Tawny Owl
Credit Mark Johnson
(Select Image To See Larger Image)


With their distinctive black and white markings there’s no mistaking a badger. Badgers are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night.

Males have broader, more domed heads and thicker necks. They live in groups, which average about 5 adults. A social group is known as a clan, and only some of the females breed. Badgers live in setts which are usually found in woodland or the edge of fields.

Setts usually are made up of a network of underground tunnels with lots of entrances, with sleeping chambers filled with dead grass. Setts aren’t always dug out of the soil, but can be under sheds or in rocky outcrops. Badger colonies often use several setts - a large main sett in the centre and one or more smaller outer setts. Setts can be used by generations of badgers. In spring and summer badgers dig out their setts, bedding collection is common, especially in September.

Autumn is when the young males disperse. It’s also when mating gets under way again.

What do Badgers Eat?

Badgers feed on nuts, seeds and berries in autumn, trying to build up their fat reserves for winter.

By November animals are less active, especially in wet weather.

During winter Jock doesn’t see much of his badger friends - by December more nights are spent underground.

About Breeding

Only some of the females breed. Implantation of the fertilised eggs takes place around the time of the winter solstice.

Badgers don't hibernate, and in January the females are pregnant, and all the group members are living off their fat reserves.

Most of the cubs are born in February, usually 2 to 3 cubs are reared. February is also the start of the mating season. (But the embryos will not be implanted until late December) Newborn cubs are around 12 cm long with a 3-4 cm tail, and are blind and helpless. Cubs start venturing out in April/May when there is plenty food available for them. To get this timing right females must give birth between January-March, with February the peak month for births.

For loads of information on badgers, visit


On The Hunt - Pine Marten

Pine martens are around cat size, slender, with big brown eyes, dark, chestnut brown fur, a bushy tail and a distinctive creamy yellow bib.

Pine martens are tree-living members of the weasel family. With a body length of around 53 cm, and a tail of around 25 cm, they weigh 1.3-1.7 kg.

Pine martens are active throughout winter, as they have thick fur, though those living higher in the hills may move to to lower ground in the colder months. The soles of their feet are covered in thick fur which probably helps them move across snow covered ground.

They are mainly nocturnal, hunting through the night, especially at dusk. They like to be on their own and pine martens won’t put up with another marten in their territories. Scats (poo) are left in prominent places along woodland tracks to mark their territories. Keep your eyes peeled when walking on Bennachie for these black, curled droppings.

Martens are mainly found in woodland, especially coniferous, but also mixed woodland. They are very agile, climbing trees easily.

What do Pine Marten Eat?

Pine martens are very good hunters, and can catch squirrels. In fact they get most of their food on the ground, hunting for small mammals, birds, insects, birds eggs, berries and carrion (dead animals).

The average lifespan is 3-4 years, though they have been known to live to 11 in the wild.

They like tree crevices for dens, but can also pinch squirrel dreys, upturned roots and rocks for their dens. If there are foxes in the area they will choose an above ground place for a den and have even been known to occupy large bird boxes or specially built boxes.

About Pine Marten Breeding

Martens breed once a year, mating in July/August. The female’s pregnancy doesn’t begin till January. This is called delayed implantation, just like badgers and 3 babies will be born in late March/April.

Born blind, they have a coat of yellowish-white hair, which changes to grey, and then brown as they mature. They stay in the den for their first 6 weeks, and the family will stay together for 6 months.

Just look at this comfy marten at home in a BBC Winter Watch Box.

Read more information on pine martens:

Jock says I can recognise every pine marten on Bennachie, as each one has a different bib!

Take a look at the badgers and pine martens as well as a hungry wood mouse in this lovely video, filmed at a hide near Aviemore.

Pine Martin (credit Richard Mullen)
BBC Winter Watch Box
BBC Winter Watch Box

On The Hunt - Fox

Foxes belong to the dog family. They are slender, with pointed ears, a long muzzle and their famous reddish coats. The back of the ears and the front of the legs are black, and the throat to the belly whitish grey. The tail is about 1/3 of the length of a fox. In the wild they usually live for just a few years.

What Foxes Eat?

Foxes eat meat - both hunted and scavenged, rabbits, small mammals, rats, birds insects, worms, fruit and berries.

About Fox Breeding

Male and female foxes can form a pair that can last for life. They travel and hunt on their own, but sometimes meet when they play and groom each other.

Foxes are territorial and will defend their territories against other foxes.

Calls are made all year, but Jock definitely hears them most in winter. Have a listen!

Fox Sounds Fox Pictures The Sound A Fox Makes Animal Sounds

Winter is their mating season, and also when the young foxes leave home. This is when there are most fights, and they can be heard most often. Towards the end of winter the female will look for a suitable den where she can give birth to her cubs. Like dogs, pregnancies last around 53 days. Dens can vary from the earths of other animals. Like badger setts, they can be above or below ground, even in hollow trees or in the branches of dead trees.

She will have 4-5 cubs in her den, and at first the male will bring her food. The cubs are born deaf and blind, and their fur is short and black. They will stay in the den for the first few weeks, totally dependent on their mum.

Fur Coats - foxes coats are in their best condition from November - February, to keep them warm through the coldest months.

They have 3 types of fur - fine underfur to trap air close to the body and insulate; longer coarse guard hairs to provide water resistance, and give the coat its famous sheen; intermediate hairs like the guard hairs which are shorter and thinner.

Foxes often have a white tip to their tails, or brushes.

Because their coats are so good at insulating them, in cold weather you can often see them with snow or frost on their coats-this means they are losing very little body heat through their coat, and their tail is especially well insulated.

You can read more at Wildlife Online Red Fox Appearance.


The European wildcat is a small wildcat that is rare in Scotland but found more extensively in Europe.

In Scotland there are very few wildcats left, many of these cats have breed with feral cats and have become hybrid wildcats.

Saving Wildcats are keen to restore and add to existing wildcat populations see

Wildcats are one of our most difficult to find creatures. They are severely endangered and at risk of extinction and are a protected species. It is estimated that there may only be 100-300 left in Scotland.

The wildcat is usually larger than a domestic cat, with longer legs, has a larger head and looks more muscular and stronger. They can live for up to 8-10 years in the wild. They like to be on their own and they will mark their territories. They prefer to live on the edge of woodland in areas of mountains and moorland, with rough grazing. They avoid high mountain areas exposed coasts, and intensively farmed lowlands.

What Do Wildcats Eat?

They are fantastic stealth hunters, pouncing on their prey, often after a long wait. Rabbit is their top menu choice, but if they're not around, voles and mice would be their second choice. They have also been known to take birds, invertebrates, reptiles, and if necessary, carrion -that’s dead animals.

They use their excellent senses of smell, sight and sound to hunt, and their sensitive whiskers can pick up tiny movements.

Wildcats often create dens in rock cairns, dykes, large logging piles, and among tree roots. They also use empty rabbit warrens, fox dens and badger setts.

About Wildcats Breeding

Their main mating season is late winter (January-March). Females produce 1 litter per year in April/May. An average of 3-4 kittens are born after 63-68 days. Born blind, their eyes open after 10-13 days. They will come out of the den to play after 4-5 weeks. By 10-12 weeks old they will be hunting with their mother, and will be fully weaned by 10-14 weeks.

They will be fully independent by 5-6 months old. Male kittens will leave their mother’s territory before their first winter, and female kittens will stay in their mum’s territory during the first winter.

Emma Rawlings of Scottish Wildcat Action writes about wildcats in winter:

In winter, wildcats have long thick coats of dense fur. They are good at finding shelter in cosy dens underground or in dense vegetation.

Just like other cats they don't like being wet and will avoid deep snow if possible.

The main issue for them when its snowy is finding food. Rabbits tend to stay underground in their burrows and voles and mice make tunnels underneath deep snow. So wildcats will head further into the woods where there will be less snow, to hunt out a meal. Sometimes they will wait at rabbit warrens for a hungry bunny to pop out.

Read Emma's article in full in Wildcats in the Snow.

You can learn more about wildcats

Find out how you can identify a wildcat try reading How Do I Know If It Was A Wildcat?

Wildcat (credit Richard Mullen)

Mountain Hare

Jock is over the moon that mountain hares are starting to make a come back on Bennachie.

Mountain hares are only found on high ground, they like heather moorland best. They also use patches of woodland like conifer plantations for cover.

They are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night. They rest during the day.

They are smaller than brown hares. Like brown hares the females are slightly bigger than the males. However, unlike brown hares, the ears of the mountain hare wouldn’t reach the tip of the nose if pulled forward.

They have 3 moults of their coats, and during the second, from October-January the coat changes from russet brown to white or grey, then back to brown from February-May.

This winter camouflage is brilliant in the snow, but in mild conditions they stand out in the heather. This is when Jock worries for them , especially as foxes, stoats, and wildcats will hunt them.

What do Mountain Hare Eat?

Mountain hares love to eat short, young heather, but if they have to they will eat older, woody plants. They will also feed on gorse willow, birch, rowan and juniper. In summer they prefer grasses.

About Mountain Hare Breeding

Females tend to have 3 litters of babies per year, 1-4 leverets are born in each litter, all furry and with their eyes open. The mum suckles them for about 4 weeks till they become independent.

Jock o' Bennachie

Jock Says:
I love mountain hares’ furry feet, they get even furrier in winter-they’re brilliant for helping them not to sink into the soft deep snow!

Watch this great video about mountain hares.

If you’d like to find out more about mountain hares have a look at Mountain (or Irish) Hare information.

Mountain Hare
Mountain Hare (credit Ron MacConald)
Mountain Hare
Mountain Hare (credit Ron MacConald)
Jock o' Bennachie

Jock's Winter Jokes

How does a penguin build a house?

Igloos it together!

What does Bennachie wear to keep warm?

Snow caps!

Also See

All About Winter

All About Winter

Jock o' Bennachie has lots to tell you about what’s going on in winter! Come and find out when Winter begins and just what is the Winter Solstice! What about the changes you might find on Bennachie in Winter?
Bennachie's Winter Wildlife

Bennachie's Winter Wildlife

Learn more about the Winter Wildlife on Bennachie and the surrounding areas, and how to spot it.
Becoming a Nature Detective

Becoming a Nature Detective

Wild creatures can be hard to spot, most are very shy, and many only come out at night. However, if you look closely you might see feed signs, tracks or droppings left behind.
Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team

Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team

Many people are surprised to discover that there is a Mountain Rescue Team based in Aberdeen.
Winter Activities

Winter Activities

Jock o' Bennachie has loads of fun winter activities for you to enjoy so start exploring!
Autumn Feeding Birds

Feeding Birds in Autumn

Give your birds a helping hand by feeding them, especially in autumn and winter.

Also see our Summer Programme, Spring Programme, Winter Programme and Autumn Programme

If you have enjoyed these activities please share them with your friends and family.