Always wanted to spot these impressive creatures in Ireland but never knew where to look? Check our handy guide to spotting the top five birds of prey in Ireland.
Birds of prey have been a constant source of intrigue (and fear) for humankind since time immemorial. Countries like Germany, Afghanistan, and the USA have chosen these impressive creatures as a symbol of their country, representing strength and power.
Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to travel too far to catch a glimpse of these skilled hunters in action. Ireland has its very own selection, you just need to know where to look.
Keep in mind, though, like any animal, they will become defensive if they feel threatened. To save yourself severe injury (or worse), always ensure you keep a safe distance.
5. Hen Harrier – spotted in the boglands
The first bird of prey in Ireland on our list is the hen harrier. This bird actively hunts a wide variety of larger birds, such as grouse and crows, but it is also known to eat mammals, such as rabbits, young foxes, and carrion.
If you want to see these birds in action, you will have to travel to the uplands and bogs in Ireland. Female hen harriers are larger than males and have a brown and white rump and dark rings on their tails. You will notice that they have a face like that of an owl.
The distinctive male is much easier to spot. Their underside is a pale colour with flashes of blue-grey, and they have black tips on their wings.
4. Kestrel – a species of falcon
The kestrel is a well-known resident in Ireland. Before even seeing them, they can be recognised by their series of short, sharp notes repeated in quick succession.
Both male and female kestrels have a brown back and inner, upper wings, in contrast to their darker upper outer wings. However, males can be distinguished by their blue-grey upper tail, while females have a series of bands in their brown upper tail and a streaked brown head.
These creatures are a species of falcon and have a diet of mainly smaller mammals. However, they have not been known to turn their beaks up at insects and other birds.
They are often mistaken for the Sparrowhawk, but if you look closely, you will recognise the kestrel by their narrower wings.
3. Marsh Harrier – a summer visitor
If you want to catch a glimpse of this bird of prey, you will have to time your birdwatching just right. The marsh harrier is true to its name and is known to visit well-vegetated Irish wetlands between March to September, where it hunts for birds and small mammals. They are generally silent, so you’ll have to develop a keen eye for these creatures if you want to spot them.
The marsh harrier is similar in size and behaviour to the hen harrier. Adult males can be distinguished by their grey head and russet brown body, but when their wings are expanded you can see that most of them are grey. Aside from patches of beige on their neck and head, adult females are mostly dark brown in colour, even as they fly.
2. Red Kites – where to spot these scavengers in Ireland
These elegant birds of prey can be identified by their long wings and a long, forked tail. Both male and female red kites have a russet-brown body with darker streaks and a grey head. Flashes of orange from their tails can be spotted when in flight.
Red kites are being slowly reintroduced to Ireland, particularly in the counties of Dublin, Down, and Wicklow. In terms of diet, they prefer to scavenge rather than hunt for their food. This means you’ll often find them circling roadkill. However, they have been known to feast on other birds, mice and rabbits.
They can be distinguished by their shrill, mewing ‘peee-ooow’ sound.
1. Golden Eagle – the quintessential birds of prey in Ireland
The mighty and elusive golden eagle is probably what comes to most people’s minds when they think of a bird of prey. However, they were not always a subject of admiration. During the 19th and 20th century, they suffered extreme persecution to the point where they completely disappeared from England and Wales.
In recent years, these beautiful birds have been reintroduced to Donegal. Still, they have been spotted in other upland areas across the island.
The golden eagle is Ireland’s second-largest bird of prey and is named after their golden coloured head, particularly notable besides their dark brown body. When the bird is young, they will have large white patches on their wings, which tend to disappear as they mature.
Thankfully, due to conservation efforts, this impressive bird of prey has been bolstered in numbers across many areas of the world.