Some of the commonest and noisiest birds are in the crow family.
Found in most regions of the world they tend to be medium to large sized, intelligent, mainly blackish in colour and relatively brave around people.
Here in Ireland, the Jackdaw is one of the most visible members of the family which numbers approximately 40. Its white eye ring and mixture of black and grey feathers making it easily identifiable.
Slightly bigger are the Rooks which often mingle with Jackdaws.
They are much tougher looking and have a strong beak with a whitish patch at the base. They also show a dark blue tint when the sun shines.
They make untidy large nests in colonies known as rookeries, in the tops of trees in whereas the Jackdaws nest in holes, such as in trees or chimneys.
The biggest of our crows is the Raven with a wingspan of up to 1.3m. These are birds of higher ground, mostly scavenging on dead animals.
The other typical Grey-Black crow we have is the Hooded Crow. It is very similar to the Carrion Crow, found in England, which does not have any grey.
This is the main crow in many European continental countries.
Hooded Crow pairs nest on their own in tops of tall trees.
However, another common crow here is the Magpie – a really beautiful bird but with a bad reputation due to their success in towns and dominance over small birds.
Reasonably common but not seen as much is the Jay which has much less black in its plumage.
It is predominantly Brown with patches of blue, black and white and is most often seen in woods, particularly Oak woods.
The final Irish Corvid is the least known but possibly the most interesting and certainly my favourite. The Chough is similar in some ways to the Jackdaw but has red legs and beak. Also the beak is thinner and down curved – designed for poking into the ground.
The best places to see these are along the South and West coasts. They will probably be noticed first by their unusual ‘chough’ calls.
That’s a reasonable number of ‘Crows’ for a little country. In a blog to follow, some of the other crows will be highlighted.
We are often jealous of the bigger variety of wildlife in other countries, even in our neighbours. This includes birds, animals, butterflies, plants, in fact pretty much everything. Of course we are on the edge of the continent but it would be nice to have some more species. The mild climate compared to contintental countries – less extreme weather than England, in fact – offers some compensation.
However, over the last decades, new species have arrived to brighten the scene. There have also been quite a lot of unwelcome additions – plants and animals that out-compete native wildlife and seriously change the balance of nature. Ignoring these alien invaders such as Mink and Grey Squirrels for now, it is great to catch a glimpse of some of the new stars.
Buzzards have been amongst the most successful recolonisers. Persecuted (shot and poisoned like most birds of prey in Ireland) to extinction during the ninetheenth century and early 20th., they made a small and short comeback in the 1950s but dissapeared again with the demise of their rabbit prey – which had in turn been decimated by Myxomatosis.
Making another return in the 70s in the north of the country, it has taken them a long time to spread south. This seems to be down to poisons laid for crows and foxes. Strychnine has been illegal in the north for a long time but was only made illegal here in the 90s.
It is now quite common to see them in many parts of the country including in Dublin and Wicklow. Often they are heard before seen and have quite a high-pitched, ‘thin’ call for such a large bird.
Ironically, it is due to the lack of large predators that Crows and Foxes are so common. More Buzzards should reduce the prevalence of Crows, Rabbits and Rats amongst others.
Exotic is one of the words that come to mind to describe another newish arrival. The Little Egret can now be found around much of the coast as well as in some inland counties, having started mainly on the warmer south coast. Previously they were an interesting visitor but they started breeding in Ireland in 1997.
It is common to see them in estuaries, often with Grey Herons. They also often breed beside large heronries.
Interestingly, other Egrets such as the Cattle and Great, are making more frequent visits to Ireland.
Outshining the Egrets however is the cartoon king, the Great Spotted Woodpecker, which is not actually all that great in size, being little bigger than a Thrush but makes up for this in colour and behaviour. Form being a rare winter visitor, Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been increasing in the last 10 years and breeding was confirmed in Wicklow woodland in 2008.
They seem to be spreading quite quickly and are now seen in Wexford, Dublin and a few other counties. They are really beautiful birds and the drumming sound as they hammer their beaks on trees has to be heard.
The other notable ‘new boy’ in the East of the country is the Red Kite. These have been carefully reintroduced through young birds brought over from Wales where the population has regrown and spread. There were previously Kite reintroduction releases in Scotland and England and the success of these ventures encouraged Ireland’s efforts.
A great addition to our skies, they are more colourful than the Black Kites common on the continent and seem to be doing well.
In the East of Ireland we have still not entertained the magnificen eagles – Golden and White-tailed – which have also been reintroduced in Ireland, in Donegal and Kerry, respectively. This also seems to be going well but is being somewhat twarted by the illegal and dangerous practice of laying out poisoned meat.
Hopefully we will get to see these magnificent flying machines soon.
Another bird that is coming back is the Goosander.
This is a saw-billed duck common in Scotland and spreading down through the UK. It seems to be building breeding numbers here since the 90s although it has been a rare winter visitor in the past.
They are long ducks with red bills. Males are contrasting white, black and green, while the females are reddish brown with a bit of white. They are found on fast rivers and usually nest in a tree hole or under rocks at the edge.
Finally, while not a new bird to Ireland, Jays seem to be increasing quite rapidly and are now not as difficult to see as before. They are the best looking crows – even compared to Magpies and Choughs and it is great to see more of them.
So some good news while habitat still dissapears, poison is laid and global warming increases!