Birds

Ninety five species of bird have been recorded within the Park, at least fifty of which have used the Park for breeding. Among the most dramatic of the birds in the park are Ravens, Peregrine Falcons, Kestrels, Merlin, and in the winter, Hen Harriers. There is also a good representation of the smaller birds; finches, tits, warblers etc. In winter, when the lakes and turloughs are full, there is a healthy population of over wintering wildfowl, e.g. Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover. Whooper Swans and Mute Swans are also common, the Whoopers only arriving for the winter months.

To download a copy of the Burren National Park Bioblitz Bird Species List see here: Burren National Park Bioblitz Bird Species List May 2013

Barn Owl   

Scientific Name: Tyto alba

Irish Name: Scréachóg reilige

Description: A scarce resident and red-listed species in decline. Rarely seen during the day. Appears ghostly white with no markings on the underwing unlike the Long-eared Owl. Face pale and characteristically heart-shaped. Dark eyes. Underparts white with females usually showing more flecking than males. Honey coloured upperparts.   

Diet: Small mammals and frogs

Beliefs & Traditions: Their Irish name which translates as ‘graveyard screacher’ is quite appropriate. They are not uncommon in graveyards, often nesting in old towers and church buildings and although usually quiet they can give a spine-tingling screech.

Where to find in the park: Open country, along field edges, riverbanks and roadside verges.

When to see: All year round

Common Gull

Scientific Name: Larus canus

Irish Name: Faoleán bán

Description: This gull is amber-listed in Ireland due to a decline in its breeding population which has been attributed to predation by American Mink. Irish breeders are joined by European migrants in winter. Breeding adults have a grey back and wings with black tips and large white spots. The beak is dull yellow in colour and legs are yellow-green to grey. Non-breeding adults have streaking on the head and a beak with a pale base and black near the tip.  

Diet: Terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates and fish

Beliefs & Traditions: Traditionally this gull was referred to as Mew Gull after its “mew” call.

Where to find in the park: In the turloughs and lakes

When to see: All year round

Common Sandpiper

Scientific Name: Actitus hypoleucos

Irish Name: Gobadán coiteann

Description: This sandpiper travels from Africa to Ireland every spring. It is a medium sized, short-necked and long-tailed wader with sandy brown upperparts, a white underside, and distinctive white “shoulder patches”. Listen out for its three-note call which it gives as it flies off with stiff wingbeats low over the water. It habitually bobs its tail.

Diet: Mainly flies and aquatic insects

Beliefs & Traditions: The Irish Gobadán coiteann means “common beak-bird”. The collective noun is a fling of sandpipers.  

Where to find in the park: Turloughs

When to see: March – September

Common Whitethroat

Scientific Name: Sylvia communis

Irish Name: Gilphíb

Description: Ireland’s largest warbler species, the Whitethroat can be seen in the park from spring to autumn. Adult males have a pale grey head and white eye-ring and throat, pinkish-brown on the breast, rusty brown on the wings and grey-brown back, rump and tail. Females and juveniles are similar but have a brown head and no eye-ring. Narrow white outer tail feathers can be seen in flight.

Diet: Insects and berries in autumn

Beliefs & Traditions: In Ulster, the Whitethroat was once called Nettle-creeper, referring to its habit of frequenting thick foliage. The Irish name Gilpíb is from Geal píb and means bright throat.

Where to find in the park: Can be found in low, open, bushy and scrubby areas, particularly where there are brambles, bracken, tall weeds and low hedgerows. Often sings its scratchy song from a bushtop, wire or in short ascending song-flight.

When to see: April-September

Cuckoo

Scientific Name: Cuculus canorus

Irish Name: Cuach

Description: They are summer visitors and well-known brood parasites, the females laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, such as meadow pipits and dunnocks. The Burren and Connemara hold the highest density of breeding pairs in the country. In flight, can be mistaken for a bird of prey but the wings are not raised above the body. Adult male Cuckoos are a uniform grey on the head, neck, back, wings and tail. The underparts are white with black barring. Adult females can appear in one of two forms. The so-called grey-morph resembles the adult male plumage, but has throat and breast barred black and white with yellowish wash. The rufous-morph has the grey replaced by rufous, with strong black barring on the wings, back and tail. Perched bird often droops its wings and cocks its tail.

Diet: Mainly caterpillars and other insects

Beliefs & Traditions: Cuckoo Spit, a frothy looking secretion from a number of insects found on vegetation, appears about the same time that the first cuckoo is heard and is believed to be the spit of the cuckoo. A traditional belief here in the Burren is that if you have money in your pocket when you hear your first Cuckoo of the year you will have money for the rest of the year to come.

Where to find in the park: Open country, open woodland and flying over the limestone pavement quite often being mobbed by smaller birds.

When to see: March-August

Golden Plover

Scientific Name: Pluvialis apricaria

Irish Name: Feadóg bhuí

Description: Flocks of Golden Plover circling over Lough Geallaín whistling gentle, melancholy calls are a sure sign that winter has returned. Numbers of these birds, visiting from Iceland, grow throughout winter. This plover species is red-listed in Ireland due to a large decline in the breeding population, which is found on the moors and mounatains of Connacht and Ulster. Roosting movements at dawn and dusk involve much manoeuvring with the flock flicking from yellow-brown to white as the birds turn.  It has narrow, pointed wings and golden brown upperparts which look grey up close. In winter males and females are similar in appearance with no black underparts. Black eyes and legs.

Diet: Eats a variety of soil and surface-living invertebrates especially earthworms and beetles. Will also eat berries, seeds and grasses. Often seen feeding next to Lapwing and Black-headed Gulls.

Beliefs & Traditions: The plaintive in-flight call is very distinctive and from it we get the Irish name which translates as ‘yellow whistler’.  

Where to find in the park: Found in turlough, marsh and grassland habitats inside the park.

When to see: September-February

Great Crested Grebe

Scientific Name: Podiceps cristatus

Irish Name: Foitheach mór

Description: This resident species is the largest grebe in Ireland. Numbers increase during winter when Irish birds are joined by wintering visitors. It has a distinctive shape with a long body and neck and dagger-like beak. In flight it has an exceptionally long, skinny outline, looks slightly stern-heavy with black up-curled feet projecting and prominent white shoulder patches. Breeding birds have a striking head pattern with chestnut-black tufts. Non-breeding birds have a pink beak and white face that lacks the warm chestnut cheeks and crest of breeding birds.

Diet: This waterbird dives to catch fish and aquatic invertebrates.

Beliefs & Traditions: The soft head and crest feathers of this grebe are called tippets. These were very fashionable in the nineteenth century and used in the millinery trade. As a result, these birds were almost hunted to extinction in the UK. Like many other water birds the Great Crested Grebe has feet placed well back on the body making it a strong swimmer but clumsy on land. This is probably why an Irish name for it is Spágaire which means clumsy walker.

Where to find in the park: In the turloughs and lakes

When to see: All year round

Kestrel

Scientific Name: Falco tinnunculus

Irish Name: Pocaire gaoithe

Description: This falcon is one of our most common raptors and is often seen hovering with its tail spread like a fan over grassy roadside verges and fields. Whilst hovering it keeps its head totally still, even in strong winds, allowing it to pinpoint small mammals by sight alone. Adult males have a grey head and tail with a wide black terminal tail-band, chestnut back and upper wing coverts, yellow feet and black eyes. The female differs to the male in having a brown head instead of grey and her brown tail is finely barred as well as having a dark terminal tail-band.

Diet: Mainly small mammals but will also take birds, lizards and insects

Beliefs & Traditions: In Ireland the Kestrel was named after its hunting behaviour of hovering into the wind – its Irish name translates as “wind frolicker”.

Where to find in the park: Open country, along field edges and roadside verges.

When to see: All year round

Little Egret

Scientific Name: Egretta garzetta

Irish Name: Éigrit bheag

Description: Little Egrets were once considered rare in Ireland until they started breeding here in 1997. They are white herons with long, black legs, bright yellow feet, a black bill and two elongated nape feathers in breeding plumage.

Diet: Fish, frogs, snails and insects

Beliefs & Traditions: Egrets get their name from the French word “aigrette” meaning “little heron”. The word has now also come to mean the long nape feathers seen on herons and egrets.

Where to find in the park: Lakes, turloughs and fields

When to see: All year round

Long eared Owl

Scientific Name: Asio otus

Irish Name: Ceann cait

Description: By far the most commonest owl species in Ireland. This nocturnal, woodland species is most often seen flying across the road in car head-lights. Dark brown above with streaked and barred plumage, orange eyes, and a distinct facial disc. A dark comma at the wingbend of its underwing is a useful i.d. feature.  

Diet: Field mice, house mice, brown rats, pygmy shrews and small passerines such as tits, robins and finches.

Beliefs & Traditions: The Irish name Ceann Cait, cat’s head, comes from the earlike feather tufts on the head which give the bird a cat-like appearance. They are raised when alarmed, in courtship or in erect camouflage posture.

Where to find in the park: Coniferous and mixed woodland

When to see: All year round 

Meadow Pipit

Scientific Name: Anthus pratensis

Irish Name: Riabhóg mhóna

Description: One of the commonest birds in Ireland, it is found in the uplands and rough pastures. It is brown above and buffy-white underneath with dark streaking on the crown, back, breast, flanks and upper belly. It also has a buff throat, pinkish legs and long, thin tail with white outer feathers.  

Diet: Invertebrates such as spiders, mayflies and craneflies and sometimes seeds.

Beliefs & Traditions: The Irish name, Riabhóg mhóna translates as “little streaky bog-bird”. In Waterford they are called “Tittery Hay Birds.”

Where to find in the park: This open country species is found in areas of scrub and pasture.

When to see: All year round but they are more conspicuous in summer when they perform their parachuting display flights in open country.

Merlin         

Scientific Name: Falco columbarius

Irish Name: Meirliún

Description: Scarce resident in Ireland, with an estimated 100-200 pairs breeding. Numbers increase in winter with an influx of Icelandic birds. The Merlin is Ireland’s smallest raptor species. It is a very agile bird, flying low to the ground at great speed as it twists and turns after its prey. Males have blue-grey upperparts with a wide dark band on the end of the tail and dark outer wing feathers. The chest is rusty yellow and finely streaked. The females are brown-grey above with a number of dark, thick bands on its tail and a buff-white, boldly streaked breast. Both sexes show an indistinct, narrow moustachial stripe.     

Diet: Small birds such as Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.

Where to find in the park: Open country and open coniferous forest

When to see: All year round

Peregrine

Scientific Name: Falco peregrinus

Irish Name: Fabhcún gorm   

Description: Widespread resident in Ireland. A powerful falcon with broad, pointed wings, medium length, barred tail and white and finely barred underparts. The cheek, throat and upper breast are plain white and contrast with a black hood and thick moustachal stripe. Unlike Merlins, male and female plumages are the same. 

Diet: Mainly birds. It stoops from high above its intended prey with its wings held closely to its body reaching great speeds killing its prey by striking it with its talons. Prey taken includes pigeons, thrushes, waders, wildfowl, gulls and seabirds.

Beliefs & Traditions: The name Peregrine is from the latin meaning ‘wanderer’. The Irish translates as ‘blue falcon’.

Where to find in the park: They hunt in most habitats in the park especially in the marshes. Steep cliffs provide ideal breeding places for them.

When to see: All year round

Raven

Scientific Name: Corvus corax

Irish Name: Fiach dubh

Description: Our largest breeding passerine the Raven is bigger than a Buzzard. Black body, legs and bill. In flight it has long wings and a wedge or diamond shaped tail and will often be heard before seen. The most commonly heard call is the classic gurgling croak which seems to come from the back of the throat.

Diet: Feeds mainly on insects and their larvae and worms, using their curved bills to dig them out of the soil. They will also eat berries, grain, small mammals and birds.

Beliefs & Traditions: It was believed that Ravens could travel back and forth to the ‘otherworld’. The appearance of one in or near a house meant a death was imminent.

Where to find in the park: These birds are seen throughout the park. Mullach Mór is a reliable spot to find them. The nest is a large eyrie on a cliff or in the crown of a tree.

When to see: All year round

Skylark

Scientific Name: Alauda arvensis

Irish Name: Fuiseog

Description: The sound of a singing lark is one of the most uplifting, pleasant sounds of an Irish summer. It sings its song, a continuous stream of warbling notes, climbing higher and higher on fluttering wings reaching a height of 50-100m and is often seen as just a hovering speck. Upon completion of the song it descends vertically with folded wings into vegetation. Changes in farming practices in the 20th century have led to a significant decline in this species. The Skylark is a brown bird with streaking above and on the breast, a white belly and outer tail feathers and a prominent white stripe through and above the eye. It sometimes raises its crown feathers to form a crest.

Diet: Insects, seeds and plant leaves

Beliefs & Traditions: The Skylark is a beautiful singer, its sweet, trilling song inspiring poets and musicians. “The Skylark” and "Lark in the Morning"are popular traditional Irish reels.There is an old Irish simile, “Chomh binn leis an fhuiseog” which means as sweet as the Skylark. There is an old saying, “Up with the lark” referring to those of us who rise early in the morning.

Where to find in the park: Rough grassland

When to see: All year round

Wheatear

Scientific Name: Oenanthe oenanthe

Irish Name: Clochrán

Description: Widespread summer visitor from Africa and one of the first migrants to arrive here in the Burren where they have been observed nesting in stone walls. Also a common passage migrant to all coasts in spring and autumn. Amber listed due to a decline in the breeding population. It is a small mainly ground-dwelling bird that hops or runs on the limestone pavement. Its most distinctive i.d. feature is its white rump and upturned black ‘T’ shape on its tail seen when in flight. Summer males have a grey crown and back, as well as a broad, black stripe extending from the beak through the eye to the neck. Also has a white supercilium (stripe above eye). The throat and top of the breast are beige-brown and the wings are all black. Adult females resemble summer males but lack the black eye-mask, this being a pale brown instead, and have a less obvious supercilium. Main calls heard are a soft ‘hiit’ and a harder ‘chack’.

Diet: Insects and fruit

Beliefs & Traditions: The Irish name translates roughly as ‘stone bird’ and like Stonechats they too give a call that sounds like a ‘chack’, or two stones banging together.

Where to find in the park: This species can be found on limestone pavement within the Park.

When to see: Mid-March to early October

Whooper Swan

Scientific Name: Cygnus cygnus

Irish Name: Eala ghlórach

Description: Named after their whooping call, they are usually winter visitors from Iceland. However, a lone swan was reported spending summer 2013 in and around the park. Quite a large swan. Best told from Mute and Tundra swans by the long wedge-shaped bill, largely yellow with black tip, yellow reaching in front of the nostrils.

Diet: Aquatic plants, grass, grain and potatoes  

Where to find in the park: Can be seen in turloughs, marshes and grasslands in the park.

When to see: March-April

Yellowhammer

Scientific name: Emberiza citronella

Irish name: Buíóg

Description: Red-listed in Ireland due to a decline in the breeding range and population. The Burren is a good place to see this bunting species. Summer males are unmistakeable with a bright yellow head and underparts, brown back streaked with black, and chestnut rump. In flight it shows white outer tail feathers. In winter they are much darker, with extensive black markings on the head and obvious black streaking on the breast. Females resemble winter males but have much less yellow on the head and underparts. Often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush, singing. Look in open countryside with bushes and hedgerows.

Diet: Seeds and insects

Beliefs & Traditions: To some, the bird's call sounds like 'a little bit of bread and no cheeeeese'.

Where to find in the park: Often seen perched on top of a hedge or bush, singing. Look in open countryside with bushes and hedgerows.

When to see: All year round