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The yellow-crowned night heron pictured in Belcarra, Co Mayo Eric Dempsey (Birds Ireland photography)
yellow-crowned night heron

‘Odd looking but beautiful’: North American bird makes first ever appearance in Ireland

The yellow-crowned night heron has captivated birdwatchers in the village of Belcarra in Co Mayo.

BIRDWATCHERS HAVE BEEN flocking to a Co Mayo village to get a glimpse of a North American bird that is believed to have arrived in Ireland for the first time ever.

The yellow-crowned night heron is currently in Belcarra, close to Castlebar, and while it may have been in Co Mayo for quite some time, it was only on Sunday that its presence became widely known.

“It seems to have arrived at least several weeks ago, maybe longer than that, and it’s just that nobody realised the significance of it until it was posted to social media on Sunday,” Niall Hatch of Birdwatch Ireland told The Journal.

Hatch said it’s the kind of bird that people would travel from Britain to see, and indeed, around 50 people from the UK have arrived since Sunday to see it.  

“I wouldn’t be surprised if people travel from further afield in Europe also to see it,” said Hatch.

“Some people like to keep a list of all the birds they have seen in Europe for example, and this would be a hard bird to get on your European list.”

It’s believed to be the first time that the bird has been seen in Ireland or Britain, and Hatch said its only other sighting in Europe was in Portugal.

Hatch explained that it is a species found in parts of the southeastern United States, down through Central America and the Caribbean, and into parts of South America.

As for how it ended up in Co Mayo, Hatch said some of the North American populations are migratory.

“The theory would be that this bird may have got caught up in a storm system and dragged across the Atlantic with a hurricane.”

Hatch said it’s incredibly exciting for birdwatchers to be able to see a species that hasn’t appeared in Ireland before.

“It’s also exciting from our point of view in Birdwatch Ireland,” said Hatch, “because we’re a conservation charity and it’s nice to hear the media talking about birds and getting people excited about it.

“Hopefully it’s bringing some money into the local economy in the village too and local businesses and shops are doing well out of it with people traveling to see it.”

‘Beautiful in their own way’

Hatch described the yellow-crowned night heron as being “beautiful in a very striking kind of way”.

“It’s predominantly grey, with very long and yellowish legs, but it’s the head pattern that’s most remarkable,” said Hatch.

“It has this black and white face pattern, and a long pointy black beak and a red eye.

“They’re quite an odd looking bird, but beautiful in their own way.”

yellow-crowned-night-heron-nyctanassa-violacea-galapagos-islands-national-park-santa-cruz-island-las-bachas-beach-ecuador A yellow-crowned night heron pictured in Ecuador Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Hatch also remarked that the species is nocturnal, which is “unusual” for herons, and that it “seems to be remarkably unafraid of people”.

However, Hatch cautioned that it’s “important people don’t disturb it and let it do its own thing”.

“Don’t get too close to it deliberately; if it comes close to them that’s great, but don’t approach it.”

There’s also good news for those who make the journey to see the bird, as Hatch told The Journal that “pretty much everyone who has tried to see it has managed to do so”.

“It can take a bit of a wait because it sleeps during part of the day up in the trees and is hidden in the leaves but it comes down eventually,” said Hatch.

He advised that early in the morning and the evening are the most reliable times for it to be present.

“If people spend a few hours waiting, you will have a very great chance of seeing it and once you do see it, it’s unmistakable, there’s nothing else there that looks like it.”

Hatch added that it’s unlikely the bird will make it back home, but noted that it’s thriving in Co Mayo.

“The sad thing is, it’s very unlikely ever to make its way back home if it was caught up in a weather system and didn’t intend to cross the Atlantic,” said Hatch.

“It might head south and end up in Africa, but it wouldn’t normally do that at this time of year, they would normally stay in one place during the summer.

“Because it’s never happened before, we don’t know how it’s going to behave, but it certainly seems to be thriving and the river where it is has plenty of crayfish and it seems to be feeding on those.

“It seems to be fit and healthy, so maybe if it can’t go home it’ll be happy in its new home.”

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