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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Irish Bird?

What Is That … Irish Bird?

Waddells

Usually we write about wildlife around and about our cottage in the Lanark Highlands.  Occasionally, however, we feel compelled to share with readers some of our wildlife photos from a trip away.  Recently, we travelled to Ireland, a holiday trip that was, not surprisingly, much appreciated following the almost three year hiatus from travel due to covid.

We have a new favourite bird … the Irish robin, correctly known as the European robin!  We prefer Irish robin for the sake of this article.  Folks in Ireland refer to it simply as a robin, but it looks significantly different from our American robin and smaller.  One of the criteria for being a favourite of ours is a beast’s ease of identification.  As soon as we learned that this cute bird was an Irish robin, it was indelibly printed in our memories. The Irish robin is beautifully coloured with its orange-red breast and face, unique in our experience, unmistakeable, and therefore a new favourite.  In the cold weather we experienced, the Irish robin appeared to be very plump and rounded.  The robins we saw had clearly fluffed their feathers to good advantage.  We would return to Ireland just to see this bird again.

Another common Irish bird we found to be very striking is the pied wagtail which we saw almost every day of our visit.  Of course we perked up immediately to ask ‘what is that’ Irish bird because it was so unlike any other bird we had ever seen.  In most towns we visited, we saw the pied wagtail on lawns, roads, and in parking areas, scurrying about and wagging its long tail up and down.  Pied wagtails eat insects, but will also feed on seeds.  A familiar black and white bird throughout Ireland, it comes in as a close second in our hearts.

Another delightful Irish bird we will not soon forget is the European stonechat.  One of a number of birds belonging to the chat family, the European stonechat is a small perching bird related to flycatchers.  The European stonechat weighs in at 13-17 grams, and fluffs itself as the Irish robin does in cool weather.  Its orange and black back and wings and orange(ish) breast made for a pretty sighting of another distinctive bird.

We were fooled for a moment when we first saw the grey heron at the water’s edge.  With its long legs suitable for wading, its grey/blue colouration, and its shape, from a distance we at first thought we were looking at a great blue heron (GBH) like we see almost daily at our cottage on White Lake.  A closer look and helpful camera angle showed the distinctive, dark markings running from its throat to breast, markings quite different from the GBH.   Eventually, we learned the grey heron is smaller than our GBH and is the heron of Ireland.  So, the next time you see a heron in Ireland, you will know it is a grey heron.  Perhaps we can call them cousins as they belong to the same genus.

Ireland has seven species of bird belonging to the crow family, one of which is the hooded crow.  A relative of our American crow and common raven, the hooded crow is an ashy grey bird with a black head, throat, wings, and tail.  Its appearance is quite distinctive.  Like their North American cousins they are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders.  The hooded crow pictured below seemed to be checking out the cedar tree for insects.

In addition to these five birds, we saw many other species of birds in Ireland.  We were reminded that wherever we travel, we see birds, wildlife, and plants which remind us of home.  On the other hand, we also see new species that seem, at least to us, to be more exotic.  We enjoy the combination of familiar and exotic.  Perhaps, at another time, we’ll tell you about some other beasts we saw.

We recently read a delightful little book about birding in Ireland named Watching Birds in Ireland by Clive Hutchinson.  Also, we fact checked some details for this article on birding websites including irelandswildlife.com .

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