Bird Monitoring in Ireland

new report: Bird of Prey Poisoning and Persecution Report 2011
26 July 2013

Below is a brief outline of some of the main bird monitoring work carried out in Ireland in recent years. It is not an exhaustive list and further information on particular aspects of bird monitoring can be accessed from sources including The National Biodiversity Centre, The Irish Raptor Study Group, BirdWatch Ireland or by contacting the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Many of these monitoring programmes rely heavily on volunteer input. Without such generous assistance the quality and breadth of Ireland’s bird monitoring programmes past and future would be compromised.


Breeding and wintering atlas provides comprehensive overviews of this country’s bird distribution and change. The most recent atlas (Bird Atlas 2007 – 11) was recently published and covers both breeding and wintering birds.   



The Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS) is the primary scheme that monitors overwintering waterbird populations in Ireland on an annual basis. The focus of the survey is largely on those wetland sites (e.g. estuaries and inland lakes) that hold internationally and nationally important congregations of waterbirds. As the survey window extends from September to March inclusive passage birds can also be recorded.

Non-estuarine Coastal Waterbird Survey (NEWS) is undertaken approximately every nine years to complement the I-WeBS dataset by focussing on those waterbirds that occur along our costal areas and which are not well covered in the core I-WeBS counts.

During the non-breeding season of 2009 – 2012 data on the distribution and behaviour of waterbirds at coastal wetland sites during the low tide period was collected. This data when paired with the I-WeBS data, which is mainly collected on a rising tide, provide an evidence base for the setting of conservation objectives for these coastal SPAs (e.g. Bannow Bay).

The population of Barnacle Geese that breeds in Greenland largely overwinters in Ireland and Scotland. Every five years an international census based on dedicated aerial surveys and backed up by ground counts at certain locations is undertaken in Ireland and Scotland to monitor this increasing population. Monitoring work concentrating on the largest flocks are carried out between the census years (e.g. The Inishkeas, Ballintemple/Lissadel).

The Greenland White-fronted Goose population is monitored annually at their winter resorts in Ireland and Britain. The 2013 report presents the results of the thirty-first annual census.

Ireland’s two migratory swan species (i.e. Whooper Swan & Bewick’s Swan) are surveyed every five years as part of an internationally co-ordinated swan census. The last survey was undertaken in 2010.

Ireland hosts the vast majority of the population of Light-bellied Brent goose during the winter months. Before the newly arrived birds disperse across Ireland the geese are subjected to a co-ordinated count every October.



To date there has been three large seabird censuses that provide robust population estimates for the majority of Ireland and Britain’s breeding seabirds: 1969-70 (Operation Seafarer); 1985-88 (Seabird Colony Register); and 1998-2002 (Seabird 2000). Planning for a fourth census is underway.

Since Seabird 2000 populations of cliff nesting species (e.g. Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot) at a number of seabird colonies are subject to varying levels of monitoring (e.g. annual monitoring at Great Skelig, 5 yearly surveys at Lambay Island).

Breeding terns have been surveyed on a national scale on two occasions (in 1984 & in 1995).Outside of the east coast some tern colonies have been re-surveyed (notably the Inishkeas, Co Mayo and Inch Lough, Co Donegal). 

The east coast of Ireland boasts some nationally and internationally important breeding tern colonies. These all occur within the SPA network and the majority are wardened and/or monitored on an annual basis (e.g. Lady’s Island Lake, Rockabill, Dublin Port and Kilcoole; all five of Ireland’s breeding tern species are represented here (i.e. Little Tern, Roseate Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern and Arctic Tern). At the end of the breeding season data from the various colonies are compiled to give an overview of changes in population size and productivity rates.

Since 2006 evening surveys of roosting by terns in South Dublin Bay and River Tolka Estuary SPA and Dalkey Islands SPA during autumn confirm the conservation importance of the south Dublin Bay area during the post-breeding/pre-migration period with over 10,000 terns recorded. The majority of the birds recorded are thought to be Common Terns, with smaller numbers of Arctic, Roseate, Sandwich, Little and Black Terns also recorded.

Some work monitoring and researching seabirds away from the colonies have been achieved. This includes ‘seabirds at sea’ surveys, headland watches to record passage seabirds and gaining insights using tagging technology to monitor where seabird forages during the chick provisioning period.



The Countryside Bird Survey (CBS) is a national project that monitors population trends of Ireland’s common and widespread breeding birds. It has been running since 1998. The primary aim of the CBS is to track changes in breeding bird populations from year to year and over the long term.



Information on rare breeding birds in Ireland is collated and reported though the Irish Rare Breeding Bird Panel on an annual basis in the journal Irish Birds.

An on-going Red-throated Diver project monitors this rare breeding bird at known breeding sites.

Surveys of Common Scoter at inland breeding lakes have been undertaken in Ireland on several occasions. The last national survey was undertaken in 2012.

Information on the breeding numbers and distribution as well as management prescriptions of Twite has recently been described.



A monitoring programme collating incidences of poisoning and persecution of birds of prey in Ireland has recently begun with the publication of the first report covering the 2011 period.

To date there has been three national breeding surveys for Hen Harrier at five year intervals. The last survey was undertaken in 2010. Outside of the breeding period this species is monitored at roost sites across Ireland. The winter of 2013/14 marks the 9th year of the winter survey.

In total there have been three national surveys of Peregrine undertaken in Ireland (1981, 1991 and 2002). Since the last national survey regional monitoring of numbers of breeding territories and productivity rates is active in counties Galway, Mayo and Wicklow.

Three raptor species have recently been re-introduced into the wild in Ireland (Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite) and all are subject to varying levels of post-release/post-established monitoring.

A register of active Barn Owl nest sites was compiled in the1990s. In recent years more intensive monitoring and research work of this species has been undertaken.



This group of birds which include Dunlin, Golden Plover, Redshank and Lapwing have been the focus of several types of survey initiatives. Those waders that breed on coastal machair habitat and associated wetlands have been surveyed on a national scale on three occasions since the 1980s with the most recent in 2009. Since then further monitoring and management work at more targeted coastal areas has continued.

During the period 2002 – 2004 a series of upland bird surveys were conducted in counties Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and Galway. These surveys identified important concentrations of breeding Golden Plover and  Dunlin.

The callow land of the River Shannon and associated rivers has been known for its important concentrations of breeding waders since the mid-1980s. Further monitoring and habitat management work has continued on here.

Breeding Curlew are subject to some monitoring work primarily in countries Donegal and Galway.



Ireland’s first National Red Grouse Survey was carried during the period 2006 – 2008. Follow on monitoring of this species is addressed in the Red Grouse Species Action Plan.

Numbers of calling male Corncrakes are monitored in their core areas on an annual basis. This monitoring information is part of on-going conservation programme to create and maintain breeding habitat for this species.

To date there have been three national surveys of breeding Chough carried out in Ireland (1982, 1992 and in 2002-03).

Waterways bird surveys were carried out in 2006 and 2007.  Following on from this in 2008 a number of river surveys targeting Kingfisher and other breeding birds that are associated with riverine habitats were completed. This data unpinned the designation of the River Nore SPA and the River Boyne and River Blackwater SPA.

Annual autumn counts of Grey Partridge are carried out as part of the overall Grey Partridge Conservation Project.

BIRD RINGING Over 20,000 individual birds are ringed in Ireland every year under licence from the NPWS and as part of the BTO Ringing Scheme of Britain and Ireland.