Ireland offers birdwatchers a treasure chest of treats

Isn't yellow the most perfect, bright, cheery color for spring?

The male goldfinch at the thistle feeders have brightened up after a winter of drab coloring; forsythia and daffodils have bloomed and there's no doubt - fingers crossed - that spring is finally here and not a minute too soon for most of us.

Like many others, I enjoy birdwatching here and in Ireland. I rent a house in Co. Mayo and, while there, I toss seeds and bread onto the patio every morning to attract the local birds, especially the charming robins, chaffinch and others. We are careful to put out just enough to be consumed by birds during the day for fear that leftovers will attract unwanted night visitors like rats, foxes and other varmints.

Some call the robins there, "English robins." They are smaller than our robins and have wonderful, big round eyes. It's so much fun to see the mother robins bring their young to sample our offerings. I read recently that there are about 4-million robins in Ireland and that the robin is the only Irish bird that sings all winter.

Several years ago, while visiting Brigit's Garden in Roscahill, Co. Galway, I bought the "Guide to the Top 50 Garden Birds" put out by the Field Studies Council, an educational charity in Shrewsbury, England, which has a network of field centers throughout England and Wales. The brochure covers species common to Ireland as well as the UK and depicts birds in full color, describes their markings and gives other identifying clues.

We pulled out the guide recently after reading a story in The Irish Times newspaper that the kestrel - a hawk that was once Ireland's most common bird of prey - is now on the endangered list. The story also said that the number of swifts, skylarks and mistle thrushes has declined each year.

The Times story covered publication at the end of March of the Countryside Bird Survey (CBS), "a milestone report on changes in Ireland's countryside breeding bird populations over the past 10 years." Some 450 volunteers and staff from partner organizations did the research for the survey, a joint venture of BirdWatch Ireland ( and the National Parks and Wildlife Service ( Altogether, some 145 species were recorded, including 18 species that were listed as being of conservation concern in Ireland.

CBS Coordinator Dick Coombes said, "Birds are valuable indicators of the health of our environment. This report is the result of the tremendous efforts of Wildlife Conservation Rangers and volunteers throughout the country. It is vital that we continue to track the fortunes of Ireland's breeding bird populations."

This is the first time BirdWatch Ireland has had a decade's worth of breeding bird data for Ireland to work with and the website said results are already being used to develop government conservation policy.

"These farmland birds have been affected by changes in agricultural practices such as increased use of pesticides and fertilizer. Climate change has also undoubtedly played a role," the survey concluded.

The kestrel feeds primarily on mice and small birds and is said to be declining by 7 or 8 per cent each year. The last Irish countryside bird to go completely extinct, the Times said, was the corn bunting species in the 1980s.

The survey determined that the wren, robin, blackbird and chaffinch are the most widespread species, occurring across 90 percent of the country. Rook, starling and wren are the most numerous.


The cuckoo is not the most popular bird in Ireland - it is reputed to be a "brood parasite" that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. But, that drawback aside, it's said in Ireland that whatever you're doing when you hear the first cuckoo in the spring is what you'll be doing all summer. Personally, I love the call of the cuckoo - it's says "Ireland" to me.

Another Irish bird is the wagtail, whose bouncy tail does exactly that - it wags. They are such silly birds and a lot of fun to watch. My sister and I watched a wagtail last fall hovering around a parked car for hours because it was in love with its reflection in the rearview mirror. Another wagtail hopped onto a sign saying "Birds of Killary Harbour," and stayed there long enough for us to take its picture.

Birdwatching is something you can do from just about anywhere -the seat of a tour bus or car, while bicycling or walking, from your hotel. In other words, anyone can watch the birds and it's a fun activity for all ages.

There are also a number of Birds of Prey centers around Ireland that are fascinating to visit, including the Falconry & Bird of Prey Centre in Killahurler, Arklow, County Wicklow, (, the Irish Raptor Research Centre/Eagles Flying, in Portinch, Ballymote, Co, Sligo, (, the Burren Bird of Prey Centre at the Ailwee Cave in Co. Clare ( There's also an interesting falconry at Ashford Castle ( in Cong, Co. Mayo, that's fun to visit if you're staying at the hotel.


If gardening is your forte and you're in the Greater-Dublin area, do visit the many that are in bloom at this time of year including: the beautiful National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, which are open all year; the gardens at Howth and Malahide Castles; the Mt. Usher gardens; or St. Fiachra's Garden and the Japanese Garden at the Irish National Stud in Tully, Co. Kildare.

And, don't miss the Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, which has the highest waterfall in Ireland.

This year marks the 20th year for the annual Wicklow Gardens Festival, which runs through Sept. 30 and includes 32 private gardens. Visit for more details.


Love walking? Take a walking tour of Georgian Dublin or head south to the Wicklow Way, the best-known long distance walking path in the Republic.

In Dublin itself, there are lots of interesting walks including Literary Dublin, the old city, the Georgian District, as well as Dalkey and Howth which are just outside the city proper. Visit for more information.

There's also a rock and roll bus tour of Dublin ( and walking rock and roll tour ( There's much to see in the capital city.

The Dublin Pass, which can be purchased for one, two, three or six days, is a great thing to have. The pass lets you avoid ticket queues, gives free entry to more than 30 of the city's top attractions, free airport to city transfers as well as lots of special offers and discounts for Dublin shops, restaurants and theatres. The pass also comes with a free 84-page guidebook.

How about a Dublin Literary Pub Crawl with two actors who introduce the writers and perform from their works for some good fun. Visit for more details.

There are also Historical Walking Tours led by Trinity College history grads that are entertaining and educational for all ages. Visit to learn more.

If you have special interests, be sure to check with the tourist offices wherever you are (look for the big green shamrock) because they always have the latest information on all activities in their area.


We were absolutely delighted to read that Aer Lingus launched daily service from Ireland West Airport Knock (Co. Mayo) to London's Gatwick last month.

The new flights will be such a boon to the west and northwest of Ireland and will increases the number of available seat connections to London via Ireland West Airport Knock (IWAK) to more than 1,200 seats per day this summer. The service is expected to generate an additional 100,000 passengers using the Airport annually.


Lambing season is in full swing across Ireland and the sweet-faced babies are everywhere. They are extremely cute although sheep farming is a deadly serious business for the farmers who work very hard to sell their flocks for breeding, as well as for meat and wool.

There's a great little museum (Sheep and Wool Centre) in Leenane, Co. Galway, where you can learn all about sheep and wool and weaving and more. It's also a great place to stop for some homemade soup, a lovely piece of quiche, a cup of tea or to visit the shop. For more information, visit

As you drive the Irish roads in the springtime, be especially mindful of those little wooly babies who are not as street smart as their mothers.


Is there a bad time of year to visit Ireland? If so, we haven't discovered it. Spring is especially lovely though with flowers and birds and lambs. The rebirth of the land after a cold, dark winter is in full swing.

Whenever you visit Ireland, be sure to stop by your favorite travel agent or visit the Aer Lingus' website ( for the latest direct flights and cheapest ground deals. Aer Lingus has offered lots of sale seats this year and the prices have been very reasonable.

US Airways ( and other airlines also offer flights and ground deals but their flights often involve layovers that add several hours to the trip.

Check out seasonal happenings at Tourism Ireland's website ( and enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go.