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'I had never seen a bird like her' - Tropical brown booby seen for the first time in Ireland

It was the first time the tropical sea bird was seen alive on Irish land

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Brown booby at Greystones (Photo: John Murphy)

Brown booby at Greystones (Photo: John Murphy)

Brown booby at Greystones (Photo: John Murphy)

A brown booby has sparked excitement among bird lovers in Co Wicklow after Ireland's first sighting of the tropical sea bird alive.

The large bird, which is usually only found in tropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean like Central America and East Africa, was spotted yesterday afternoon in Greystones in what is believed to be the species' first documented visit to Ireland.

In 2016, a brown booby landed on a boat at sea off the Skellig Islands in Kerry, and in the same year another was found washed up on an Irish beach. The decomposition of the latter would suggest though that it died far before it set foot on Irish soil.

Niall Hatch, from Birdwatch Ireland, said that the sighting is extremely rare in Europe.

"In an Irish context it's extremely rare. This is the first time that the bird has been seen in Ireland in a location people could actually see it," he said.

"It's a lovely bird. It's a tropical sea bird related to our gannet here in Ireland. The Brown booby is like a tropical counterpart of that, so we know this bird would have come from somewhere in the tropical Atlantic so it would have been the West Indies or the coast of central America or maybe even West Africa or somewhere like that.

"So it has gone much further north in the Atlantic than it normally would."

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Brown booby at Greystones (Photo: John Murphy)

Brown booby at Greystones (Photo: John Murphy)

Brown booby at Greystones (Photo: John Murphy)

The bird, which is currently still ashore in Greystones, is in healthy condition and Mr Hatch said that there is no need for concern for the bird, which will be left to its own devices.

While brown boobies have a wide-ranging habitat, that it could be in such good health so far north may be a concern.

An increase in recent sightings, Mr Hatch said, could suggest the effects of global warming are at play.

"Birds turn up in Ireland and other places, and if it seemed to be injured or sick or anything like that it might require some help but at the moment it seems OK, it's finding food. We don't know what it will do, it might hang around a while longer, it might head back out to sea. These birds have a tendency to disappear as quickly as they arrived so they're very much evolved and adapted to lie on the open ocean and it will probably just fly off and head somewhere else.

"They are ocean wanderers and they will travel over large areas but over the last couple of years there have been an increase in sightings in Europe, a handful in Southern England. You can't tell anything really from one bird showing up but what this would suggest is that climate change is making the oceans here more suitable for them," he said.

"Most sea birds like colder water but they like warmer water so it could be that the water is being warmed up and it's making it easier for them to wander further north than usual. It does suggest some warming up of the ocean."

The brown booby (Sula leucogaster) is a member of the Sulidae booby family of birds. They live mainly in the open ocean and feed on fish using an arial dive technique.

While their stocks are high and are a low conservation concern, Sofia-Lilly Guilfoyle (7) from Greystones was one of the first people to ever see the bird in Ireland.

Sofia-Lily swims every day at Greystones and said that she immediately recognised that the bird was not Irish.

"We went down to the beach and there was another family who were trying to shoo it but it wouldn't leave and their dog was running around but it still wouldn't move," she said.

"I had never seen a bird like her before. It had feathers and it was white, brown, yellow and black and it had feet like a duck.

"He flapped his wing especially for me. I knew he wasn't an Irish bird so I said bonjour to him."

It is unlikely that the booby will make Ireland its permanent home, and unsure when it will return to the tropics, but Birdwatch Ireland say that for now it is healthy and uninjured and its holiday in Ireland is of its own volition.

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