The Park provides a variety of habitats for at least 100 different species of bird, both resident and migratory (Checklist). Blanket bog and heathland make up the greater part of this area. Deciduous woodlands, coniferous plantations, cliffs, scree slopes, lakes and rivers also provide important habitats for birds.
Ireland's position as an island on the western edge of Europe results in a temperate damp environment that rarely experiences extreme weather conditions. This attracts many migratory species including waterfowl seeking refuge from the freezing conditions of northern Europe and the Arctic, and summer migrants from Africa that come here to breed. Irelands isolation also means that there are fewer resident species than in Britain or mainland Europe.
Surveying and monitoring of birds is an integral part of Park management to determine the numbers and species of bird present at particular times of the year. The Irish Wetland Bird Survey (IWeBS) is carried out throughout the country by Rangers and volunteers on specific dates. Park staff monitor the Blessington Lakes, which are outside of the Park, but are an important stopover for winter migrants.
The Wicklow heathlands are an important habitat for the threatened Red Grouse. This species requires long old heather for cover and nesting as well as young heather on which to feed. An area of heath near Djouce Mt. is being managed to create diversity in heather cover to boost the population. This is being achieved at present through the cutting of plots of heather on a rotational basis. Controlled burning of plots is planned in the future.
Bird watchers are invited to inform us of any interesting observations. Contact us.
The principal bird habitats within the Park are upland heath and bog, cliffs and rocky areas, and also the woodlands.
Upland Heath and Bog
Waders like Snipe, Curlew and Golden Plover can be found feeding in the waterlogged areas like Liffey Head Bog. The Red Grouse, a subspecies of the European Willow Grouse, breeds successfully in the drier heathland areas of the Wicklow Mountains.
Danger is always present within the animal kingdom. Birds and small animals such as mice, frogs and lizards must be wary of predators. The Merlin hunts on the open hillside. Before the reforestation of Ireland with commercial conifer plantations became prevalent in the 1960s, this small falcon nested on the ground. Recently tree-nesting has become increasingly common. Despite this, there has been some decline in numbers as hunting grounds have been afforested. Kestrels and Hen Harriers are also present on the boglands of the Park. A summer visitor, the charming Wheatear patrols the hillsides. It boldly perches on rocks and bushes making it an easy bird to watch. The white flash on its rump and tail feathers is a distinguishing feature. It feeds primarily on invertebrates, but can often be seen flying sporadically between Fraughan bushes in late summer to take advantage of the tasty fraughan berries.
Cliff and Rocky Areas
The Raven scavenges to a large extent on the carcasses of dead animals and so nests in February to coincide with the highest period of winter mortality.
The survival of the Peregrine Falcon is one of the great success stories in the Wicklow Mountains. The use of pesticides in the 1950s and 1960s severely affected the breeding success of this bird of prey. A reduction in their use in recent years has led to a recovery in the population. The Glendalough Valley is home to at least one pair, their piercing screeches draw attention to themselves as they soar in the sky. The Peregrine hunts by knocking its prey from the air at incredible speeds of up to 250mph (400 kph). The impact from the talons can kill prey instantly.
The Ring Ouzel is a scarce summer visitor and rarely seen. A member of the thrush family, it resembles the Blackbird in appearance apart from a band of white on its chest and a pale patch on its wings. It is a secretive bird often flitting amongst rocky outcrops. It has been recorded at Turlough Hill and on the scree slopes of Glendalough valley.
Names such as Lough Ouler ('Iolar' is the Irish for eagle) and Eagles Crag above Lower Lough Bray, remind us that the magnificent White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla once soared over the Wicklow mountains. Persecution led to its extinction in Ireland by the end of the 19th century. It was recorded nesting in Lough Bray up until the 1830s. The Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos experienced similar persecution, but now is being reintroduced from Scotland to Glenveagh National Park in Donegal, and maybe will return to nest in Wicklow in the near future. To learn more about the project see www.goldeneagle.ie.
The oakwoods of Glendalough are full of garden birds such as Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Blackbird. The woodlands are also host to less common woodland specialists such as the Jay, which is a colourful member of the crow family. Two important visitors each summer to the oakwoods, which are rare in Ireland, are Redstart and Wood Warbler. These birds can be difficult to spot in a woodland, so it useful to learn their calls.