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species data

  • Barn Owl

    Irish: Scréachóg reilige
    Latin: Tyto alba

    Description:
    The white heart shaped face and dark eyes of the Barn Owl are distinctive. Appears long necked with short tail in flight. The white underparts contrast with the buff and light grey upperparts. Often seen in the dark in the headlights of vehicles, when it looks very white or pale.

    Habitat:
    It roosts and nests in old buildings and trees and prefers open or lightly wooded ground especially along river plains. However, pairs also utilize conifer plantations and urban areas. Most Barn Owls breed below 150m and where snow cover is usually limited.

    Food:
    In Ireland the most abundant prey items are wood mice and common rats.

    Breeding:
    Nests in old buildings, holes in trees and nestboxes. No nest constructed and 4-7 eggs laid on whatever substrate is present. Lays eggs from March to August and incubation lasts 30-34 days while the chicks remain in the nest for about 60 days.

    Status:
    The Barn Owl is a resident species breeding over much of the country but seemingly absent from the west. The population is estimated to be somewhere between 600-900 pairs and is in steady decline.

  • Buzzard

    Irish: Clamhán
    Latin: Buteo buteo

    Description:
    Medium sized, broad winged, stout and short neck, which gives it a compact appearance. Often seen soaring near roads at moderate height showing fan shaped tail or perched on fence posts, telegraphs poles or prominent branch. Plumage can be very variable with off white tail densely barred grey and pale band across chest. Usually dark brown plumage with black wing tips and trailing edges of wings. White or pale patches on underwing near the 'wrist' are often very noticeable.

    Habitat:
    Buzzards prefer pasture interspersed with hedgerows and small woods. Open sheep grazed hillsides and scrub with suitable nest sites are also occupied.

    Food:
    The buzzard is a versatile predator, which eats birds, frogs, Rabbits, rodents, carrion and Earthworms. Bird prey includes passerines, crows, pigeons and young waders.

    Breeding:
    Builds large sticks nests in trees or sometimes on small cliff ledges. The nest is lined with grasses, mosses and other plants and small green branches or sprays are also added to the nest rim. Lays 2-5 eggs in late March-May and incubation last 33-36 days. The chicks fledge after 42-47 days.

    Status:
    Became extinct in Ireland in 1891. First found breeding on Rathlin Island, County Antrim in 1933. The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group estimate 200 + pairs are now breeding in Northern Ireland, whilst there appears to be at least 150 pairs in the Republic of Ireland with approx. 100 pairs in county Donegal alone. Buzzards are believed to be currently breeding in 18 counties and there is no reason why Buzzards should not eventually recolonise every county in Ireland.

  • Golden Eagle

    Irish: Iolar Fíréan
    Latin: Aquila chrysaetos

    Description:
    Large soaring and gliding bird with 190-225cm (6ft) wingspan. The plumage is mostly dark brown with a yellowish-brown (golden) neck and head. Immature eagles have varying amounts of white on upper and lower wings and the base of the tail, decreasing until adult plumage is gained after 4-5 years.

    Habitat:
    Typically found in mountains, hunting in wide open landscapes with short vegetation and restricted tree cover. Also found along remote coastal plains.

    Food:
    Its main food preference across its range is medium sized mammals such as hares and Rabbits and a variety of birds including seabirds. Carrion including dead sheep and deer can also be an important part of the diet especially in winter.

    Breeding:
    Golden Eagles only start to breed at 4-5 years of age. Their home range or territory may contain 3-8 alternative eyries. Large stick nest built on cliffs, crags or in trees. Two egg clutch laid in mid March and hatch after 42-44 days in early May. Young leave the nest after 65-75 days.

    Status:
    Became extinct in Ireland in 1912. One pair bred in County Antrim 1953-1959. Reintroduced to County Donegal in 2001 and as a result bred unsuccessfully in 2005 and 2006. In 2007 a wild young eagle fledged from an eyrie in Glenveagh National Park.

  • Goshawk

    Irish: Seabhac mór
    Latin: Accipiter gentilis

    Description:
    Strong raptor with broad wings and long tail. Adult male can be confused with male sparrowhawk despite its larger size. The adult male is bluish above with whitish belly barred grey. It has an large white supercilium or eye stripe. Females are the size of a buzzard with slate-grey upperparts and whitish underparts barred grey. Juveniles are brown above and buff-white below with heavy brown streaks or 'tear drops'.

    Habitat:
    Goshawks need woodland and open country for hunting but needs mature woodlands or conifer stands for nesting. They normally choose plantations or woodlands that are at least 80 years of age.

    Food:
    Goshawks kill a variety of medium-small birds and mammals including rabbits, pigeons, crows, pheasant, starlings and other passerines.

    Breeding:
    Builds its large stick nest in mature woodlands and plantations. 3-5 eggs laid in April-May and incubation lasts36-38 days. The chicks leave the nest after 36-40 days, by which time the nest and tree are sometimes festooned by prey remains such as eaten crows and pigeons.

    Status:
    2-5 pairs of Goshawk are known to be breeding in Northern Ireland and though no records of breeding Goshawk in the Republic of Ireland have been published they are believed to be breeding in 3-5 counties.

  • Hen Harrier

    Irish: Clamhán na gcearc, Cromán na gcearc nó Préachán na gcearc
    Latin: Circus cyaneus

    Description:
    Recognized as a harrier by long wings and tail and low flight with wings raised in shallow 'V' when gliding. Adult male has grey-blue upperparts and white rump and obvious contrasting black wing-tips, blue-grey head and whitish underparts. The female also has a white rump, but is mostly brown with yellowish inner wing and dark brown streaks on upper and under wing and tail.

    Habitat:
    Hen Harriers prefer upland areas, especially heath habitats but also marginal agricultural land and young forestry plantations. During the winter they can be found on saltmarshes, reed beds and over lake margins.

    Food:
    Mostly birds such as Starlings, young waders and gulls, Red Grouse, Meadow Pipits and other passerines and also mice and rats.

    Breeding:
    Nests on the ground in rank vegetation including heather and sedges or young conifer plantations. They have started to nest in the crowns of storm damaged plantation conifers in Northern Ireland in the last decade (Don Scott). The loose nest is compiled of dead heather stems, bracken and other plant material. 4-6 eggs are laid in April -late May and incubation lasts 29-32 days. The chicks begin to seek cover in the neighbouring vegetation as they get older and eventually fledge at 29-32 days. Occasionally a male can be polygamous ie mate with and provision two females.

    Status:
    A national Hen Harrier survey by Dúchas, the Irish Raptor Study Group and Birdwatch Ireland found a minimum of 73 breeding pairs and up to 90 possible breeding pairs in the Republic of Ireland in 1998-1999. Northern Ireland holds 38 pairs.

  • Kestrel

    Irish: Pocaire Gaoithe
    Latin: Falco tinnunculus

    Description:
    Often seen hovering above ground whilst hunting rodents. The adult male has deep chestnut and back and the inner half of the upperwing, contrasting with the dark outer wing and grayish head and tail. The female has a brown upperwing and back which is more heavily barred than the male. Its outerwing is also darker and its tail is heavily barred.

    Habitat:
    Kestrels are found all over open countryside and even in urban areas, though areas of low prey supply are avoided perhaps especially areas of poor soil quality.

    Food:
    Field and House Mice, Rats, Pygmy Shrews, small passerines and frogs.

    Breeding:
    Nests on ledges of cliffs or crags, in old ruins or building ledges or in old nests of other species. No materials added by the kestrel. 5-7 eggs are laid and incubated for 28-31 days and the chicks fledge after 35 days.

    Status:
    One of Ireland's commonest birds of prey with an estimated population of 10,000 pairs.

  • Long Eared Owl

    Irish: Ceann Cait
    Latin: Asio otus

    Description:
    It has a slow and wavering flight and its wings are long and narrow. Dark brown above with black and grey streaks and bars. Buff patches on front underwing and outer upper wing.

    Habitat:
    Long-eared Owls hunt over open landscapes but nest and roost in deciduous woodlands and coniferous plantations.

    Food:
    Long-eared Owl feed predominantly on Field Mice. They also feed on House Mice, Brown Rats, Pygmy Shrews and birds including small passerines such as tits, Robins and finches. Beetles are also eaten and Bank Voles are taken within the Bank Vole range in the southwest of Ireland.

    Breeding:
    Uses old Hooded Crow, Magpie, Woodpigeon or Sparrowhawk nests in woods and plantations. Occasionally will nest in holes in trees or on the ground. 4-6 eggs laid in March-April, incubation lasts 27-28 days and the young remain in the nest for 21-24 days.

    Status:
    By far the commonest owl in Ireland though it can be very elusive and difficult to locate away from its inconspicuous nest sites. It is estimated that Ireland may hold 1,000 -3,500 pairs of Long-eared Owl.

  • Marsh Harrier

    Irish: Clamhán Móna nó Cromán Móna
    Latin: Circus aeruginosus

    Description:
    Large harrier with slim body, relatively narrow wings and long tail. Soars with wings in shallow 'V'. Adult male is very distinct with striking colours (grey, black and brown) on upperwings and upperbody very apparent. Female is dark brown with creamy white crown, throat and forewing.

    Habitat:
    Traditionally found over reedbeds on the edges of Ireland's once common wetlands. Also hunts over marginal and arable farmland, bogs, fens and marshes.

    Food:
    Eats birds such as Moorhens and Coot, young ducks and waders, small passerines, young Rabbits and rodents.

    Breeding:
    Nests in reed beds on swampy ground in shallow water. Can nest on arable ground amongst cereal crops. Lays down a pile or platform of reeds and sedges and grasses are used to line the nest. 4-6 eggs are laid in late April-June and incubated for 33-36 days and the chicks remain in the nest for 35-38 days.

    Status:
    Became extinct in Ireland as a breeding species in 1917. However annual sightings of adult birds in suitable breeding areas in Ireland indicate that it is likely to recolonise Ireland in the near future.

  • Merlin

    Irish: Meirliún
    Latin: Falco columbarius

    Description:
    Smallest falcon with an active and agile flight and rapid wingbeats. Adult male blue-grey, tail with black terminal band and dark primaries. Breast rusty-yellow with fine dark streaks and white throat. The adult female has brown-grey upperparts and heavily barred dark tail. Breast is buff-white and with bold dark streaks. Juveniles are very similar in appearance to adult female.

    Habitat:
    Found over upland, dry and wet heath and areas of raised and blanket bog. Also found nesting and hunting on the edges of conifer plantations.

    Food:
    Feeds on a variety of small passerines such as meadow pipit, wheatear, finches, starlings and young waders. Also takes insects such as moths and small rodents.

    Breeding:
    Uses old crow nests in trees especially in plantations or scattered pines in peatlands. Can nest on the ground. Lays 4-6 eggs in late April-May and incubates for 24-27 days and the young leave the nest after 26 days or so.

    Status:
    The current status of Merlin in Ireland is probably 100-200 pairs. There are up to 30 pairs in Northern Ireland, 19 pairs in Wicklow (Anthony McElheron) and 19 pairs in south Connemara (Paul Haworth).

  • Osprey

    Irish: Iascaire Coirneach
    Latin: Pandion haliaetus

    Description:
    Medium sized and long-winged raptor with white or pale lower body, throat and leading underwing. Hovers over water and dives feet first for fish. Adults are uniformly brown. Crown of the head is white and a large black stripe passes beyond their eyes. Female has more prominent brown smudging band, across its white breast, than male. Adult eyes are yellow. Juveniles' feathers on the upperwing and upperparts are tipped whitish and giving a speckled effect. Juvenile eyes are orange.

    Habitat:
    Hunts and breeds near freshwater lakes, reservoirs and rivers. Also found breeding near salt water estuaries and bays.

    Food:
    With rare exceptions, Ospreys catch and eat live fish only. In Europe Osprey hunt Pike, Trout, Flounder, Mullet and a variety of other fish. In short, Ospreys are opportunists; they concentrate on fish that are most available.

    Breeding:
    Always breeds within several kilometers of water. In Scotland predominantly breeds on mature, usually tall, trees especially Scots Pine and Douglas Fir. Can nest on ruined buildings, cliffs, pylons and artificial platforms. Bulky stick nest lined with bark and clumps of moss and small sods. Lays 2-4 eggs from April to early May and incubation lasts 35-38 days. Chicks leave the nest after 8-9 weeks.

    Status:
    Extinct in Ireland since circa the 18th Century. Summer visitor to Ireland, March-October only. The growing Scottish population is likely to lead to recolonisation in the future. Has begun to breed again in England in 2001. Winters in Africa.

  • Peregrine

    Irish: Seabhac seilge nó Seabhac gorm
    Latin: Falco peregrinus

    Description:
    Medium-large falcon with heavy chest and bulky body. Males are approx. one-third the size of females. Upperparts are blue-grey whilst underparts are white with lower chest and belly finely barred. White cheeks, throat and upper chest contrasts with black hood and prominent 'moustacial' stripe. Juveniles have brownish upperparts and its underparts are prominently streaked on breast and belly.

    Habitat:
    Mostly found on upland heaths and remote coastal areas. Also found in farmland areas where they utilize small crags and quarries and in urban areas where they nest in a variety of buildings. Have been known to nest in the middle of Limerick, Dublin and Belfast.

    Food:
    Medium sized passerines such as thrushes and starlings, wood pigeons, domestic pigeons, gulls, waders and gamebirds.

    Breeding:
    Does not build a nest but lays its eggs on ledges of sea or inland cliffs or quarries, in old raven nests, on tall building ledges or in church spires. 3-5 eggs laid, incubation lasts 29-31 days.

    Status:
    The Republic of Ireland Peregrine population is estimated to be 265 breeding pairs and Northern Ireland appears to have 100 breeding pairs.

  • Red Kite

    Irish: Préachán Ceirteach nó Cúr
    Latin: Milvus milvus

    Description:
    A buoyant medium-large raptor with long wings and characteristic long deeply forked tail. Flight leisurely with constant twisting of tail and obvious white patches on the underwing. Adults have a pale head and a rufous body, tail and forewing. Juveniles show less red in their body and tail and have distinct white tips to their upper wing coverts giving a speckled paler appearance than an adult.

    Habitat:
    Likes open pasture and arable land with woods or shelterbelts for nesting. Closely associated with a wide variety of farmland practices and habitats.

    Food:
    The Red Kite is an opportunist scavenger and is very adaptable. Will hunt rodents (mice and rats), young birds (pigeons and crows), young rabbits and will eat insects such as worms, beetles and Crane Flies. Also eats carrion such as dead livestock, road kills and shot birds and offal. Will piratise food from crows and other birds including Kestrels.

    Breeding:
    Untidy stick nests built in the crown, lateral branches or forks of deciduous or coniferous trees. The nest is also decorated with varying amounts of rubbish such as plastic, wool, paper, clothes, bailer twine etc. 2-4 eggs laid in early April to early May. Eggs are incubated for 28-32 days and chicks leave the nest after 50-55 days.

    Status:
    Became extinct in Ireland in the early 19th century. Reintroduced into Wicklow in 2007. The original Welsh population has been augmented by 8 separate release programmes in England and Scotland. A number of Red Kites from the reintroduced Scottish population visit Ireland each winter, particularly immature first year birds.

  • Sparrowhawk

    Irish: Spoiróg no Seabhac
    Latin: Accipiter nisus

    Description:
    Small raptor with rather short blunt tipped wings and long tail. Its flight, with a few quick wingbeats relieved by a short glide, is distinctive. The male is small and has slate-blue upperparts and rufous-pink throat, breast and belly. The larger female has slate-grey upperparts and is whitish underneath with grey-brown barring.

    Habitat:
    Sparrowhawks are very widespread in Ireland and breeds wherever there is suitable woodland and scrub for nesting and small birds as prey.

    Food:
    Sparrowhawk prey upon a wide range of other birds, females tending to take larger birds. Birds eaten include thrushes, tits, woodpigeons, finches and sparrows.

    Breeding:
    Usually builds its nest close to the trunk in coniferous trees or in deciduous trees or uses old nests. Lays 4-6 eggs in May, incubates for 31-33 days and chicks fledge after 26-30 days.

    Status:
    A rough estimate for the Irish sparrowhawk population is 11,000 pairs and they are present in every county.

  • White Tailed Eagle

    Irish: Iolar Mara ná Earrach
    Latin: Haliaeetus albicilla

    Description:
    Very large eagle with long broad wings and outer wing obviously 'fingered'. Fairly short bluntly wedge-shaped tail, long neck and heavy bill give a distinctive flight silhouette. Wingspan 190-240 cm. Adults are brown with paler yellowish-brown head and neck. Wedge tail pure white in adults. Juveniles' head, neck, body and wings are dark brown (though juvenile plumages vary from brown to almost black).

    Habitat:
    Predominantly found along sea coasts and large freshwater lakes and rivers.

    Food:
    Feeds on fish, waterbirds, carrion and offal. Often follows trawlers and feeds on the fish bycatch, which is dumped overboard.

    Breeding:
    Builds a bulky stick nest on rocky cliff-ledges and mature trees (spruce, birch etc). Lays 2 eggs (occasionally 3) from mid February to April. Incubation lasts 34-40 days and chicks remain in the nest for 10-12 weeks.

    Status:
    Extinct in Ireland since the early 1900s. Reintroduced into Killarney National Park in 2007. Vagrants from the growing Scottish population (which was reintroduced) are occasionally seen in in Ulster.