BirdWatch Ireland Flies On


BirdWatch Ireland is the largest independent conservation organisation in Ireland. Established in 1968, this registered charity has in excess of 15,000 members and supporters, as well as a local network of over 30 branches nationwide. If you become a member of BirdWatch Ireland, you’ll receive a glossy quarterly magazine and invites to conservation events all over Ireland. Family membership includes a smaller magazine that’s dedicated to encouraging children to get involved in learning and appreciating nature. Despite the funding challenges posed by Covid, BirdWatch Ireland continues its mission, believing that their work is more vital than ever. This week Dermot McNally takes a look at some of the work going on at BirdWatch Ireland. All images courtesy of BirdWatch Ireland.


For dedicated bird lovers, there are lots of opportunities to volunteer and attend events. However, one of BirdWatch Ireland’s best-known activities is the annual Garden Bird Survey. This is where ordinary homeowners take a regular note of the birds who visit their gardens. The information gathered is added to a national database, which in turn enables us to develop a holistic picture of changes in bird migration patterns, common bird numbers, unusual sightings and more. The data collected helps feed our understanding of what is affecting bird life in Ireland, e.g. a national drop-off in greenfinch numbers was noticed, which led to a discovery of a species-specific disease that had struck.

The quarterly magazine and regular online articles and blogs at BirdWatch Ireland also give practical advice on how homeowners can make their gardens more “friendly” to birds of all shapes and sizes. More intrepid volunteers can take part in the “Little Terns” project in Louth or Wicklow, or volunteer time to help with administrative work at a local branch, of which there are 30 nationwide. These local branches are actively engaging in the community, such as the Cavan branch who recently went on a trip to visit Lough Sheelin to enjoy the wildlife there.


In Ireland we have around 200 ‘regularly occurring’ bird species, some of which are here all year round, as well as others that migrate to spend part of the year here. Of those migratory species, some come here for the summer to nest while others come to spend the winter. If we include rare ‘vagrant’ species, then over 450 bird species have been recorded in Ireland. That said, it’s unlikely that the average homeowner will encounter much more than a dozen species in their garden (Blue Tit pictured below), and often only the most common birds at that. If you want to see more, you’ll often have to travel a little further and invest in a pair of binoculars. BirdWatch Ireland stock an array of birding equipment such as binoculars, feeders and guidebooks so you can buy in confidence.


BirdWatch Ireland maintain a growing network of bird reserves dotted around the country, all located in areas of conservation important to birds. As pressure on natural habitats increases, reserves can ensure that some land is managed exclusively in the interests of threatened birds, habitats or wider wildlife. These can be used as a demonstration of the benefits of conservation management in advocating, for example, for more targeted agri-environment policy, as well as playing a significant role in our campaign to foster public awareness of Ireland’s wild bird heritage. Many of the reserves are incorporated into an events programme organised though the national network of branches. These introduce new members and the general public to the pleasures of birdwatching through guided walks and special seasonal events, such as dawn chorus walks. Reserves also inform on the workings of natural habitats and the need to incorporate conservation principles into land use and development activities. A visit to one of our reserves can offer a unique education resource for children and adults alike, where, as well as seeing and learning about birds, there is also an opportunity to see other wildlife, from mammals to insects to flowers. For those unable to travel to location-based events, there are also regular online seminars on a range of bird-related topics.


The organisation takes an active role in lobbying government where necessary, believing that strategic  changes in state policy can have huge implications for biodiversity. BirdWatch Ireland firmly believes that the Irish Government can educate, assist and reward farmers and land stewards to enhance biodiversity, but unfortunately that “joined up” thinking is often not forthcoming.

For instance, Oonagh Duggan (pictured), who is Head of Advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland, made a detailed submission in December 2021 on the topic of CAP reform: “The government’s failure to include in the Plan a robust and bespoke scheme that halts losses and restores populations of breeding waders like Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe, Dunlin and Redshank is one of the most egregious problems with the CAP plan and undermines the States own Needs Assessment objective to halt the losses of farmland birds.”

BirdWatch Ireland raised this issue some time ago with Ministers McConalogue, Hackett and Noonan and still have not received any concrete assurances that an effective scheme will be put in place to help these iconic birds. It will be catastrophic if there is no scheme or a weak scheme. It must be a significant scheme with the commensurate resources supporting it.” BirdWatch Ireland intend to press hard in the years to come to save rare farmland bird in particular.


Nestled in North Harbour of Cape Clear Island in West Cork, the Cape Clear Bird Observatory is one of Ireland’s best-known birdwatching destinations, where ornithologists have studied bird migration since 1959. It is one of the best places to watch seabird migration in Europe, especially during the late summer months. Spring and autumn bring large numbers of songbirds moving to and from their breeding grounds, amongst which there are usually one or two strays from North America and Siberia.

The observatory building is situated right beside north harbour, and therefore in an idyllic spot with easy access to the main facilities and centre of the island. It is also an easy walk to a number of the main bird-watching hot spots. The accommodation can take seven guests on a self-catering basis. Guests have the use of the extensive library, dining room, fully equipped kitchen and bed linen is provided. There are three bedrooms, a twin, a small single and a ‘family’/group room with four beds.

For information on any aspect of BirdWatch Ireland’s range of activities just get in touch at or call +353 (0)1 2819878 to find out more.

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