Ireland’s Birds – an overview



Although a comparatively high number of bird species have been recorded in Ireland, with over 450 species currently on the Irish list, as an isolated island it has considerably fewer breeding birds than our nearest neighbours.  Many birds are migratory and many are rare or unusual in Ireland, despite the fact that they are common residents across the Irish Sea in Britain.


The fact that Ireland has been an isolated Island for over 8,000 years means that several species, widespread in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, that do not move great distances are absent: examples include Tawny Owl, Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and most woodpecker species.  In addition, Ireland's mild weather means resident birds have an advantage over visitors in terms of early breeding and choice of best habitats.  Ireland has fewer habitat types than Britain and continental Europe, with fewer deciduous woodlands, Scots pine forests, heaths and high mountain ranges.


Ireland does have four species of bird which have adapted to their Irish habitats to such an extent that they have become significantly different from their British/European counterparts and are considered distinct endemic Irish races. These are the Coal Tit (Parus ater hibernicus), Dipper (Cinclus cinclus hibernicus), Jay (Garrulus glandarius hibernicus) and Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus hibernicus).


Ireland, with fewer breeding species than our neighbours, does however hold important numbers of species which are in decline elsewhere.  It is home to the largest breeding numbers of Storm Petrels in the world and holds very important breeding tern colonies.  Of particular importance in this respect is the Irish breeding population of Roseate Tern, with very successful breeding colonies at Lady's Island in Wexford and on Rockabill Island in Dublin, home to Europe’s largest colony of this beautiful species.  Ireland also boasts one of the largest populations of Chough found in Europe.


Of all the threatened species in Ireland, the Corncrake is perhaps the most famous.  BirdWatch Ireland operates a special ongoing Corncrake Conservation Project in the Shannon Callows, Connaught and Donegal to protect this species during the breeding season.  Cutting of silage during the summer results in destruction of nests and eggs, as well as the deaths of chicks and females reluctant or unable to leave their nest.  Another focus of intensive conservation efforts is the Red-necked Phalarope, now unfortunately extinct as a breeder in Ireland.  Efforts are ongoing to attract this elegant wader back to the north-west, through habitat management at Annagh Marsh and Termoncarragh in Co. Mayo. 


For details on individual bird species, please visit our Ireland’s Birds section.



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