|Birds & Fauna
Birds on Clare Island
The island's bird-lifepar takes in the seasonal movements
and character of the west coast avifauna, which can only be understood by study of an
extended coastline, such as from Erris Head to Slyne Head.
The spectacular cliff-faces along the northwestern and western
coasts provide an extensive environment for breeding sea-birds. During an assessment of
Irish seabird colonies, based on the breeding seabird inventory recently prepared by the
Forest &Wildlife Service, Clare Island was considered to be a key site of major
The most numerous of the island's seabirds today
are kittiwake, fulmar, (this species first nested in Ireland in 1911 ), (and smaller
numbers) guillemot and the greater black-backed gull.
The island is a site of international importance for
the chough. It is not uncommon to see flocks of fifty or more birds at the western end of
the island, and smaller numbers on the upland mountain land from the lighthouse moving
westward. They breed on the northern and western cliffs. The prevalence of the chough was
noted by Ussher in the original Clare Island Survey
in1912, remarking that "Clare Island may happily be called a sanctuary of the
Clare Island is Ireland's fourth and newest (as well
as smallest) gannetry. One pair of gannets began breeding on a low stack northeast of the
Tower since 1975. Breeding has continued ever since despite the unusually isolated and
exposed position of the site.There are now three pairs breeding (Cussens, summer 1998).
Gannets (more than the resident six) can often be seen feeding between the island and
Ravens and peregrines nest on the northern and
The cliffs and the western end of the island in Toremore,
are also important for barnacle geese which use them as important winter feeding.
Quite recent breeders are cormorants on Beetle
Head, Shags breed from the lighthouse around to the south-east coast.
Visitors include: great northern diver, common and
arctic terns, glaucos gull (rare), as well as a gyr falcon which was a very rare visitor
Since the original
Survey, the number of razorbills has declined drastically. (Razorbills were
considered the"star" species of the 1912 Survey. "There is no more
remarkable colony in Ireland than that on the great cliff of Clare Island, where
razorbills breed up to 1,000 ft." wrote Ussher. In 1945 razorbills were more numerous
than guillemots. A total of 1713 birds were counted in 1969. Only about 200 were counted
in 1982 and in1990, only 28 were seen. Puffins still breed but in very small numbers as
well as the black guillemot. Ussher noted of the puffins that"considerable colonies
extend along the upper parts of the Clare Island cliffs among and above those of
Razorbills. They have no rabbit-holes to occupy so they must dig their own burrows.
There has also been a serious decline in the number
of common gulls: 800 pairs were counted in 1988, only 30 pairs today (summer
1998-Cussens).Herring gulls have also declined, perhaps because of the competition from
the lesser black backed gull (20-30 pairs) which are a recent arrival.
There has been a massive proliferation amongst
magpies and hooded crow.The Magpie was said to be only a visitor at the beginning of the
century and was not seen in 1945; two pairs of Hooded crow were found nesting in the
cliffs by Ussher, and only three or four pairs were seen to be breed in 1945.33 hooded
crows were seen in Lassau wood on May 1998.
The corncrake has been absent from the island for
about ten years. Efforts are underway to create suitable conditions favouring their return
(i.e late cutting of hay).
Greywagtail, reed bunting, sedgewarbler, linnets and
grass hopper warbler are breeders as well as snipe. The latter can be heard drumming in
the northern and eastern parts of the island. Other breeding wading birds include
ringedplover, oystercatcher and commonsandpiper. Turn-stones and purple sandpipers are
Kestrel, sparrow hawk, and peregrine are the
island's birds of prey: the peregrine nesting in a traditional eyrie in the cliffs at the
western end, near the Tower.
There are large numbers of lapwings and curlews
(especially in winter) though few are breeders.
The numbers of blackbirds and robins have increased
noticeably, perhaps due to the increase of vegetation cover now being planted near houses.
Swiftsbreed in large numbers, stone chats are very
common; skylarks are not uncommon. Of the passerines, the commonest are meadow pipit and
wheatear. A colony of treesparrows has established itself since 1982, scattered between
the harbour and the Abbey.
Notably absent from the original Survey are twite,
cornbunting, yellow hammer and whitethroat all of which are birds associated with
traditional farming practices.
A final word must be given to a bird that is
extinct, the golden eagle.
" Symes, of the geological Survey, who had
been stationed in the district in1867-1870, stated that the Eagles, generally a pair, used
to be quitefearless, from the absence of guns, and that they did havoc among the
younglambs, and lifted geese from the cottiers' very doors. T. Bourke Gaffney, who was a
week on the island in1878, and saw two Eagles, stated that there was an unbroken record of
a pair occupying the same eyrie for the past century, which was never disturbed, being
unaccessible. This is confirmed by the reports of light-keepers from1882-1885, who speak
of these birds having their nest in the highest cliffs; and say that in winter, when they
had not sea-birds, they were often observed near the villages, and used to prey upon the
grouse, then plentiful on Clare Island. On the 4 April,1887, a Golden Eagle was sent to
the National Museum in Dublin, from the island and this seems to mark the time of the
disappearance of those birds which have ceased to breed there."
The following is an old poem confirming the existence of
this majestic bird.
Come all you true
Clare Islanders attention pay to me
And when you'll hear of these few lines, I'm sure you will agree.
Concerning this old woman and the gallant eagle bold,
On the 19th day of January by her he was controlled.
As she was stepping it out for home, she met him on her way;
As he was taking dinner these words to him did say,
"Now my man you're acting wrong and that you know quite well,
That's a darling gander which belongs to my Lavelle."
"And if I'm acting wrong" himself he said, "then what is that to you,
Aren't you like a wounded officer that fought at Waterloo,
Don't you know that I'm the eagle and my meals I do get free,
So go your way you impudent jay, how dare you speak to me."
The battle then it did commence, she made her first attack;
She walked up with her walking stick and hit him on the back.
He thought to make a charge at her, but she knocked him down again
O'hone he cried,"my back is broke, the battle is all in vain."
Now it is few that believe it, but it is indeed well known,
She took him on her shoulder and walked away straight home.
He was purchased by the lighthousekeeper to keep him for a show
And he ne'er will kill a goose again in Myley or Tomroe.
The wit of this old woman should be published far and wide,
In Capnagower, Kille and Glen beside the brimming tide.
Her age is over seventy, she is but poor and lame.
She's a native of Clare Island and Bridget Barrett is her name.
For more information regarding the island's bird-life,
please contact us or Bob Cussens, Department of Marine Biology, National University of
Ireland, Cork. email@example.com
to whom we are extremely grateful for helping us with this summary.