IT MAY NOT seem like temperatures are rising on this frosty Irish morning but the hoards of vagrant birds that are arriving from around the world beg to differ.
Following the rare sighting of the native African bird the cattle egret in Donegal this week, Birdwatch Ireland have said there has been an increase over the last few years in birds arriving from countries with much warmer climates.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland said the sighting of the cattle egret at a pig farm in Donegal is not the first appearance of this bird in Ireland but it is unusual to find it so far north.
“It used to be exceptionally unusual to see a cattle egret in Ireland at all, ” he said. “Over the last few years there have been a record number of them on the south coast, especially in Cork and in Wexford as well and the species has been spreading gradually northward through Europe.”
The bird, which follows herds of animals like cattle and horses to eat the insects they kick up, is most commonly found in the African Savana and normally needs warm winters to survive.
“It’s too short a time for the bird to have evolved but they are very versatile, they go where the food is and if they have to they can move on very quickly,” Hatch said.
Though there is only one lone cattle egret in Donegal, and as Hatch rightly put it “it takes two to tango”, it is not likely the bird will colonise but he said it may start to breed in Ireland in the next few years, most likely on the south coast.
Several other birds from across the globe have also arrived in Ireland and some have even started to breed here as the climate changes, Hatch said.
“Another species similar to this bird is the little egret which is common on wetland areas but will also go into places with cattle and this was quite rare before the 90s but it is now breeding on the Cork/Waterford border,” he said. “The Mediterranean gull, a beautiful member of the gull family can be seen all over Ireland and has small breeding colonies in certain places as well.”
Arctic birds leaving Ireland
However the warmer winters also mean that we are losing some species with more Arctic distribution like the red-necked phalarope, common in Scandanavia, which used to be quite widespread in midland bogs.
“Also in some large bird colonies like gillamots and puffins we’ve seen them moving north in response to the changes in sea temperature as they follow the fish who are following the plankton as they move into colder waters,” Hatch said.
“It is a cause for concern and we have to monitor is very closely because as we start to see changes in populations of thousands of birds it’s very telling of changes in the environment.”
“See yiz!” Puffins aren’t impressed with our rising temperatures and are heading north. (Image: David Cheskin/PA Wire)
“One bird that bucks the trend is the snowy owl, which will be familiar to Harry Potter fans, as that can be seen occasionally in Ireland,” Hatch said. ”
“This shows that as their arctic environment changes they’re trying to find new habitats for food and breeding and in desperation they’re heading south.”
Hatch said it is natural for birds to change their habits in order to increase their chances of breeding successfully but said it is a strong indicator of serious changes in climate.
“Birds are the most visible form of wildlife and are often top of the food chain so they often offer the first indication of something changing in the environment,” he said.
“But this is also an indication of the flora and fauna effect and the effect on other animals and human beings are a part of that too. It will have the same impact on us as we rely on the same air, water and organisms.”