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Ospreys Breed in Ireland For First Time in Almost Two Centuries

25th August 2023
A file photo of an Osprey on a nest
A file photo of an Osprey on a nest Credit: Wikipedia

A pair of fish-loving ospreys have bred in Ireland for the first time in almost two centuries on the island of Ireland.

Two and “possibly three” chicks have been confirmed in the nest of the pair at an undisclosed location in Co Fermanagh, according to Ulster Wildlife.

Giles Knight, Ulster Wildlife environmental farming scheme advisor, had been aware of the breeding pair and observed them while undertaking farm visits in the area during the last three seasons.

The osprey, with its distinctive white head and rangy aspect, frequents coastlines and waterways in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Scotland, northern Europe and North America, living off a diet of live fish.

Native ospreys, which gave their name to places such as Osprey rock on Kerry’s Lough Léin, have not bred in Ireland for over 150 years.

As in Scotland, they were hunted to extinction. Recolonisation began over a half century ago in Scotland, where there are believed to be around 250 to 300 breeding pairs.

A breeding programme with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, involving international experts in Norway and Britain, was announced here several months ago by Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan. The first 12 chicks from Norway were due to arrive here in July.

Visiting ospreys have been spotted on migration, such as a bird spotted flying over the lakes of Killarney in early May of this year.

“I have been keeping this news close to my chest for a long time to ensure the safety and welfare of these spectacular but vulnerable birds,” Mr Knight said.

“Along with my son Eoin, I have watched the adults return to the same site since 2021, so you can imagine my excitement the moment that I saw three chicks and two adults this year. It was a rub- your-eyes, once-in-a-lifetime moment; an absolute highlight of my 30-year wildlife career – like finding long-lost treasure,” he said.

“With at least two of the chicks fledging this season, this is a huge conservation success story and indicates a healthy wetland ecosystem with plenty of suitable habitat and fish to bring this apex predator back to our skies and plunging into the Fermanagh Lakelands,” he said.

“Now these birds are back in Ireland and breeding successfully, it is critical that they are left in peace so their numbers can continue to grow by returning year on year to breed. We believe and hope that this could be the start of a raptor dynasty,” he added.

Dr Marc Ruddock of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group described it as “truly brilliant news”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!