Look who’s swooping in after 250 years – osprey chicks to be released here in summer

Formidable bird of prey was hunted to extinction in Ireland in late 1700s

The formidable wingspan of an osprey in action. Photo: Getty Images

Caroline O'Doherty

Ospreys will soon be flying over Irish skies again – after an absence of about 250 years.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is working with its counterparts in Norway to prepare for the bird’s reintroduction here.

A small number of chicks are to be released in the south-east of the country during the summer months.

The hope is they will establish breeding grounds in Ireland, and will then return every year after their winter migration.

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien revealed the plans in reply to questions from Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore about species reintroduction programmes.

The formidable bird of prey, which has a wingspan of 180cm, was once a common sight in Ireland – but it was hunted to extinction in the late 1700s.

It feeds exclusively on fish and eats both freshwater and saltwater varieties, so the Wexford-Waterford region – with its coasts, estuaries and lakes – has been chosen as the reintroduction site.

The Osprey is a large bird of prey with excellent eyesight, formidable talons, and a hooked bill for tearing its prey.

Golden eagles, white-tailed sea eagles and red kites have all been brought back to Ireland after being extinct here for many years, and ospreys have been on the wish list of raptor enthusiasts for decades.

The species has been doing well on the east coast of England and south-west Scotland after their reintroduction there, and birds from Britain have been spotted in Ireland on a detour from their winter migration to west Africa.

The osprey is very much an Irish bird, even though we haven’t had them here for so long

Lorcan O’Toole of the Golden Eagle Trust, which worked on some of the earlier reintroduction programmes, said he was delighted with the news.

“We’ve been putting up artificial nest platforms for 25 years in the hope that some of the birds from Britain would come to breed here – but so far they haven’t, so hopefully this programme will have more success.

“It would be great to see them back. The osprey is very much an Irish bird, even though we haven’t had them here for so long.

Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore. Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

“They were known as mullet hawks around the south-east, and their Irish name is iascaire coirneach or tonsured fisher – apparently because the black and white markings on their head was like a monk’s tonsure. They are very well-established in Irish culture.

“They’re a fantastic sight – and in Scotland people come in their thousands to watch them. They are spectacular divers.”

Ospreys are not so house-proud, and tend to lay eggs in distinctively messy mounds of sticks piled on top of any high structure – from trees and cliff ledges, to telephone poles and electricity pylons.

Mr O’Toole said the reintroduction programme would face particular challenges because of the osprey’s migratory habits.

“Birds introduced here will fly south, mainly to West Africa, for the winter – and there are always birds that don’t return from migration for various reasons, so it will be a slow process to build up breeding pairs in Ireland.”

Jennifer Whitmore welcomed confirmation of the programme

“It will need to be resourced and communicated properly and done in collaboration with local knowledge owners, but it is good news,” she said.