Osprey chicks expect to soar across Wexford skies as reintroduction project is set to take flight in the southeast

Osprey chicks will be reintroduced to Ireland this July

Osprey. Photo: Getty Images.

Amy LewisGorey Guardian

The osprey will soon be soaring over the southeast the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is ready to move forward with the reintroduction of the osprey to Ireland this July.

Up to 12 chicks will be brought into Ireland from Norway this summer as part of a reintroduction programme aims to establish a viable, free-ranging osprey population that eventually breeds in Ireland. According to NPWS Divisional Manager Dr Phillip Buckley, one of the project leads, three sites in the southeast have been selected and prepared for the new arrivals. However, in order to protect the bird’s security and welfare and respect landowners who are enabling the work to be undertaken, the exact location of the release cannot be divulged.

The recently-revealed Osprey Reintroduction Programme is the culmination of many months of research and collaboration with colleagues overseas, as Dr Buckley explained.

"We spent about a year-and-a-half to two years researching this and talked to a lot of experts in Norway, Europe and the UK, who gave us great help. We then looked for potential sites across Ireland and honed in on the southeast, where we sought out specific locations and ran some of them by external experts,” he explained.

“In bringing these birds in, obviously, there is a lot of preparation on the sites, but there is also preparation required to import them. You need special licences and import and export permits, for example. All of those things are now in place. We have an agreement with the Norwegians to give the chicks to us and we have lined up a team of people to work on it.”

The birds will be flown into Ireland in mid to late July and brought to the reintroduction sites. For the first four weeks, they will be kept in holding pens, where they will be fed with a fresh supply of fish. As the team wishes to prevent the birds from imprinting on humans, they will provide the fish from a small slot at the back of the pen.

"When they are ready to fly, we will open the front of the cages and the birds will come out. The intention is to feed them in the vicinity of the pen for about a month,” explained Dr Buckley. “These are a migratory species so they will migrate naturally between the end of August and the end of September to Africa.”

Provided the ospreys survive the precarious first few years of life, it is hoped that they will return to Ireland when they’re ready to breed, which is, on average, when they are three-years-old.

“Nothing is absolutely guaranteed but we will give it every possibility of working, that’s for sure.”

The osprey was once a common and widespread native bird in Ireland. However, persecution coupled with the great reduction of woodland which provided ospreys with numerous nest sites led to their decline and eventual extinction 150 years ago. While the bird has not been recorded as a breeding species here since then, migratory ospreys have been known to visit Ireland.

In an effort to make the southeast of Ireland an attractive breeding spot for both the rereleased chicks and those birds that are passing by, artificial nest sites have been erected around the region.

“Ospreys will nest naturally in tall trees but they will also nest in artificial platforms on tops of tree or on poles. A lack of available nest sites is a limiting factor for the osprey so when you put up these platforms, you will increase the likelihood of them having a suitable nest location,” explained Dr Buckley, adding that the erection of such platforms has led to a great increase in the breeding population of osprey in Norway.

As part of the project, the NPWS plans to bring 50-70 osprey chicks to Ireland from Norway over a five-year period. While the programme may take some time for the species to begin breeding again, the reintroduction of this fish-eating apex predator will provide significant insights into the health of the Irish ecosystem, and its waters over time, according to the NPWS.