First osprey chicks to return to Ireland this summer – 150 years after species became extinct here

The formidable osprey in action. Photo: Getty Images

Caroline O'Doherty

Up to 70 osprey chicks will be brought to Ireland from Norway as part of plans to re-establish the birds here after an absence of more than 150 years.

The first 12 of the magnificent fish-hunting birds of prey are due to arrive in the South-East in July and the rest will follow in phases over the next five years.

Exact locations for the reintroduction programme are not being revealed but it is understood the first will come to the Waterford-Wexford area.

The hope is that in the long-term the birds will breed and spread over a wide area, reclaiming such places as Killarney National Park where local landmark, Osprey Rock at Loch Léinn, is testament to their previous presence in the region.

On This Day In History - May 23rd

Details of the plans were confirmed today after several years of research and preparations by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff.

Artificial eyries or nesting platforms are already in place in some coastal locations to assist visiting ospreys that sometimes take a detour here while on their winter migration from the UK and northern Europe to west Africa.

More eyries will be constructed for the new arrivals to boost the chances of them staying around to pair off and nest.

Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan who visited one of the existing sites today said the preparations had been extensive.

“The project has the direct involvement of colleagues from Norway and UK, who are not only top osprey experts, but who have led and supported other key species-reintroduction programmes in Europe,” he said.

“The NPWS has great expertise from its introduction of the white-tailed eagle and the same, highly experienced team will now put their knowledge to good use as we embark on the reintroduction of the osprey.”

The NPWS team is led by Dr Phillip Buckley and Eamonn Meskell who explained that holding pens would be provided where the chicks would be cared for and allowed to get accustomed to the area before their release.

“Once the chicks arrive in Ireland, we’ll be monitoring their progress and adapting their feeding regime to build towards their eventual release over the summer,” Mr Meskell said.

Ospreys will eat both freshwater and marine fish and so can be found inland and in coastal areas, but their preference is for estuaries and coastlines that provide a mix of both habitats.

From beak to tail, they grow to about a metre in length while their wingspan can be up to 1.7 metres which makes them a formidable sight as they glide 70 metres high over water bodies to spot fish before plunging to catch them.

They are long-living birds and monogamous with pairs often returning to repair and enhance the same nest each year for as long as 20 years.

Eventually their nests can expand to two metres in diameter with surrounds a metre high.

If pairing and mating is successful, the female lays two or three eggs in April and the first nestlings hatch after 37 days.

They were once commonplace in Ireland but the last were hunted to extinction in the late 19th century.