Ireland’s Top 10 + garden birds introduces you to ten species you are most likely to see in your garden. It is based on results from The Garden Bird Survey, organised by BirdWatch Ireland,  which runs every winter, over a thirteen-week period from the end of November to February. A grand total of over 110 species have been recorded in Irish gardens, with 65 per cent of gardens hosting up to 25 species. Large rural gardens attract the most number of species though suburban gardens compete very well and are by far the most popular and widespread garden type.

Learn more about identifying the birds in your garden: read Ireland’s Garden Birds, new second edition is available from our on line shop.

Robin (Spideog)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

Probably the best-known bird species in Ireland, and also the ‘friendliest’. In the breeding season robins are extremely territorial and will chase off any intruding birds. Occasionally, disputes between neighbouring birds can become very violent. Nests anywhere there is ground cover and will sometimes use garden sheds. It is a constant companion to the gardener, feeding on grubs, worms and insects disturbed by the fork or spade, and can become very tame. It is a widespread visitor to bird tables and increasingly to hanging feeders.

Identification Features

Adult

Bright red-orange breast; grey-white belly; warm brown unmarked upperparts; grey on the side of the neck and upper breast; stands upright; round appearance.

Immature

Young birds just out of the nest do not have a red breast, but instead are scaled light and dark brown.

In Flight

Flies fast and straight.

Voice Guide

Its call is a loud, thin tick, usually repeated several times, often out of sight. It sings all year round but is at its loudest during spring, when its melodious twittering is often performed from a fence-post or a prominent bush, sometimes at night in suburban areas.

Diet

Insects, especially beetles and their larvae, also fruit and seeds in winter.

Food to put out

Seed cake, seeds, bread and will sometimes take peanuts.

Nesting Season

Mid-March to Mid-June.

Nest Location

A wide variety of places from trees and shrubs to ivy-covered walls and even ledges in sheds, etc.

Nest

A big cup nest made of dead leaves and other plant material, lined with thin roots, hair and, rarely, feathers. Built by the female.

Eggs

Four to six, 20mm, matt white or cream eggs with red-brown markings ranging from fine flecks to blotches spread all over the eggs or concentrated towards the broad end of the eggs.

Incubation Period

Fourteen days, by female.

Fledging Time

Thirteen to fourteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

Two.

Nest Box

Open-front box.

Average Lifespan

Two years.

Oldest Known Individual

Eight years.

Confusion Species

Juvenile robins, which lack the red breast, may look similar to the Dunnock

Blackbird (Lon Dubh)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

Likes open, short grass and leaf litter when feeding. Blackbirds can often be observed looking and listening for earthworms that are on or just below the surface of the ground. If frightened on the ground it will sometimes lower its head and run quickly to the nearest cover. With nearly 2 million breeding pairs in Ireland, it is no wonder that it is so well known. It is common everywhere but was rare in the west in the nineteenth century. Its dark plumage and low-pitched voice has led researchers to believe that the blackbird was once a species mainly found in forests before human intervention altered the landscape in Europe by removing most of the forests. In winter, many blackbirds from Britain and Scandinavia join our mainly resident birds.

Male Blackbird (c.Oran O’Sullivan)

Female Blackbird (c.Oran O’Sullivan)

Juvenile Blackbird (c.Oran O’Sullivan)

Identification Features

Male

Jet-black body, short, heavy, bright orange-yellow beak and eye-ring. Young males superficially resemble female birds.

Female

Dark, chocolate-brown, with paler throat and breast (sometimes faintly spotted); dark-brown beak; no eye-ring. Partial or total albino blackbirds are not unusual.

In Flight

Over short distances, fast and straight flight. On landing will often droop its wings and cock its tail high in the air.

Voice Guide

Sings from a high prominent position, from late January well into summer. The song is melodious and loud, sometimes continuing for a long period. Calls include a loud chock and a high-pitched, thin sseeee. If disturbed, flies away with a loud clamourous call. Unlike the similar-sounding song thrush it rarely repeats song phrases.

Diet

Mainly insects and earthworms, also fruit and berries.

Food to put out

Bread, seed cake, seed and fruit.

Nesting Season

Mid-March to Mid-June.

Nest Location

Will nest in a variety of sites, usually with trees, shrubs or hedges, preferring a fork in a tree or shrub.

Nest

A stout cup-shaped nest made from a variety of plant material, lined with a mixture of mud and plant material and finished with strands of dead grass. Built by the female.

Eggs

Three to five, 29mm, shiny pale green-blue eggs covered in fine brown or rusty brown flecks and spots sometimes concentrated around the broad end of the egg.

Incubation Period

Fifteen days, usually by the female.

Fledging Time

Fifteen days, fed by both parents, and dependent on them for a further two or three weeks after fledging.

Number of broods reared per year

Two to three.

Nest Box

Nest bundles, occasionally small platforms.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Fourteen years.

Confusion Species

Starling is smaller, usually covered in pale spots; has pale pink/red legs and short tail.

Blue Tit (Meantán Gorm)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

Ringing studies have shown that in the course of a winter’s day, what you thought were three or four birds visiting your bird feeder may actually have been many more. Over an average winter period you might unwittingly have played host to hundreds of different blue tits! The blue tit rarely travels far, but there is an exception to every rule and one individual, ringed on Bardsey Island in Britain on 4 October 2003 was retrapped alive and well 345km to the west on Cape Clear Island nineteen days later.

Like all members of this family, the blue tit is very acrobatic and because it likes nesting in cracks in walls and trees it will usually take up residence in a nest box in no time at all. Like all birds, blue tits can see ultra-violet light. The front of their heads glows brightly under UV light; it is thought by some that females choose their partners based on the UV brightness of their cobalt blue heads.

Juvenile

Adult

  

Identification Features

Smaller than a Robin.

Upperparts

Pale blue cap surrounded by a white halo; white ear coverts; dark line through the eye; back green-blue; wings blue with faint white wing bar; tail also blue.

Underside

Throat, side of the neck and nape dark blue; breast and belly pale yellow.

Immature

Similar in pattern to adults but more yellow in overall colour.

In Flight

Weak, bouncing flight, rapid wing beats.

Voice Guide

Like most members of the tit family, the blue tit is very vocal and has various call notes. The most characteristic are a very high pfit-pfit-che-haah-ah and a lower, scolding churr.

Diet

Insects and spiders, also berries, fruit and seeds in winter.

Food to put out

Blue tits have a wide taste and especially like peanuts, seed cake, seeds and fat but will also check out almost any food put out to attract birds.

Nesting Season

Mid-April to Mid-May.

Nest Location

Nests in a wide variety of habitats from woodlands to gardens. The nest can be found in any suitable crevice or hollow in trees or walls. Regularly uses nest boxes.

Nest

A cup-shaped nest built mainly of moss and a variety of plant materials, lined with down and feathers. Built by the female.

Eggs

Seven to eleven, 16mm, slightly shiny white eggs with fine red-brown to purple-red flecks, sometimes concentrated at the broad end of the egg.

Incubation Period

Thirteen to fifteen days by the female, fed by the male.

Fledging Time

18–21 days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One.

Nest Box

Hole-entrance box.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Nine years.

Confusion Species

Great Tit and Coal Tit have black crowns.

Great Tit (Parus Major) (Meantán Mór)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

The black stripe on the belly of a male great tit is an indicator of its status; it is thought that larger stripes are more attractive to females. As widespread as the blue tit, though not as numerous. Like other members of the tit family, the great tit is mostly sedentary, though there is evidence of continental birds arriving here in autumn. Because it is bigger and less acrobatic than its relatives, it spends more time looking for food on the ground. Favours beech mast and if there is a good crop will remain in woods later into autumn and winter. In bad beech mast years, it moves out of the woods in search of food sooner and turns up at bird tables earlier, where it is the dominant tit species.

  

Identification Features

The largest member of the tit family. About the same size as a Robin.

Upperparts

Jet black head with bright white cheeks (ear coverts); dark blue-green primaries and secondaries, white wing bar; yellow-green back; tail feathers dark with varying degrees of pale blue edging; outer tail feather white (most noticeable from below). Underside

Breast and belly bright yellow with a black line down the centre. The black line is broad on males and narrow and incomplete on females. White undertail coverts. Dark grey beak and pale blue-grey legs.

Immature

Plumage looks paler and less yellow.

In Flight

Voice Guide

When it comes to calls it is hard to beat the repertoire of the great tit. Calls and song include a blue tit-like tchurrr and distinct phrases usually repeated two to four times, one sounding like ‘teacher, teacher!’ More mechanical and repetitive than blue tit or coal tit.

Diet

Insects and spiders; in winter, beechmast, seeds, berries and fruit.

Food to put out

Peanuts, seed cake, seed.

Nesting Season

Mid-April to Mid-May.

Nest Location

In a variety of habitats; usually nests in a hole or cavity in a tree or wall, and occasionally in very dense vegetation.

Nest

A cup-shaped nest made of a variety of plant materials, lined with thin strands of grass or feathers. Built by the female.

Eggs

Seven to nine, 18mm, slightly shiny white or pale cream eggs with red-brown or light brown spots and flecks of variable size and density.

Incubation Period

Thirteen to fifteen days by the female, fed by the male.

Fledging Time

18–21 days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One.

Nest Box

Hole-entrance box.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Fourteen years.

Confusion Species

Coal Tit is smaller and has a white stripe down the nape and buff undersides. Blue Tit has a bright blue cap.

Chaffinch (Fringilla Coelebs) (Rí Rua)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

Chaffinches are one of the most abundant and widespread breeding bird species in Ireland. They nest in woodlands, hedgerows and gardens. Irish chaffinches are sedentary, with most breeding pairs returning to the same nest site year after year. In the winter, large numbers of chaffinches arrive here from northern Europe, via European countries bordering the south shore of the North Sea. Irish birds feed more in woodland areas and gardens, while the visiting birds, which are larger and paler, prefer to feed in large flocks in stubble fields. Outside the breeding season, chaffinches mainly eat seeds, and over a hundred different seed types have been recorded being eaten by them, which is one possible explanation for their abundance in Ireland. The Latin name of this bird, coelebs – derived from the Latin for bachelor – was given by Linnaeus, who saw only male chaffinches in winter in his native Sweden: females from its northern breeding grounds winter further south than males.

  

Identification Features

Slightly larger than a Robin.

Male 

Face, breast and belly rosy orange-pink; undertail white; crown and nape metallic blue-grey; back brown; rump olive-green. Wings dark brown with two white wing bars; white outer tail feathers on a relatively long dark tail. Males in their first year and during the winter are duller, though not as dull as the females. Stout, conical, grey beak; pale-pink legs.

 Female

Same pattern as male but body drab pale grey-brown. Beak paler.

In Flight

Double white wing bar and white outer tail feathers very obvious. White underwing.

Voice Guide

Calls include a loud buzz-twink-twink-twink and in flight a low, weak weiou. Its song, which lasts about three seconds and is repeated, starts with buzzing notes, slows and descends into a jumble and finally a flourish.

Diet

Mainly insects during the summer and in the winter a wide variety of seeds, berries, etc; broadest diet of all finches.

Food to put out

Seed and seed cake, usually on the ground; also peanuts. The Chaffinch can often be seen on the ground under a bird table or feeder, eating seeds and bits of peanuts dropped by other birds.

Nesting Season

Mid-April to end May.

Nest Location

In a variety of habitats with trees, from woodlands to hedgerows and gardens; usually built in the fork of a tree.

Nest

A cup-shaped nest, made from a variety of plant materials and spiders’ webs, lined with feathers and fine plant material.

Eggs

Four to five, 19mm, shiny eggs ranging from white to pale pink or brown with a scattering of dark red-brown spots and streaks.

Incubation Period

Eleven to thirteen days, by the female.

Fledging Time

Twelve to sixteen days fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Twelve years.

Confusion Species

Brambling is an uncommon winter visitor; white rump; male more orange then red; less white on wings.

Greenfinch: absence of white on females and immatures.

Female House Sparrow has no white on outer tail feathers and no obvious white on the wings.

Coal Tit (Meantán Dubh)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

The coal tit is fond of wooded areas, with a particular preference for conifers and also sessile oak and birch. It is widespread in Ireland, absent only from treeless areas, particularly in the extreme west. Resident, rarely travelling far. In winter, it often forms part of a flock consisting of different members of the tit family. Unlike other members of the tit family, however, it hoards food at any time of the year and so does not suffer so much in severe weather. In one incident, a bird-watcher put out 250g of whole peanuts on a bird table only to find that a coal tit had removed the lot in less than an hour, hiding the nuts in cracks in a nearby wall.

  

Identification Features

Smaller than a Robin.

Upperparts

Long white patch on the nape; black head and white ear coverts; dark wings with two faint white wing bars; dark grey-brown back and tail.

Underside

Pale buff-grey; beak short and thin; legs long and dark blue-grey. Comes readily to bird tables and has a mischievous jizz. Dull in colour compared to the other tits.

In Flight

Weak, bouncing flight, short bursts of rapid wing beats.

Voice Guide

Its calls and song are varied but include a high, forced fee-chew repeated several times; also a very high, Goldcrest-like su-ee-ou, zit-zit-zit, suee-ou.

Diet

Insects and spiders, also seeds in winter.

Food to put out

Seed cake, seed and peanuts.

Nesting Season

Late April and May.

Nest Location

Prefers conifer trees but will also nest in broadleaved trees. Usually nests in a hole, sometimes in walls.

Nest

A cup-shaped nest made from a variety of plant materials and spiders’ webs and lined with hair, delicate plant material and feathers. Built by the female.

Eggs

Eight to ten, 16mm, slightly shiny white or pale cream eggs with scattered red-brown blotches and flecks, usually darker than those of the Blue Tit.

Incubation Period

Fourteen to seventeen days by the female.

Fledging Time

Sixteen to nineteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One to two.

Nest Box

Hole-entrance box.

Average Lifespan

Two years.

Oldest Known Individual

Eight years.

Confusion Species

Blue Tit and Great Tit are both more colourful and lack the distinctive white stripe on the nape.

Magpie (Snag Breac)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

Magpies are found throughout Ireland.  They eat a wide variety of food, from insects to fruit and carrion such as roadkill, hence their success.  They are adaptable and well able to exploit opportunities  presented in urban and suburban landscapes, in particular. During the breeding season they will take eggs and young of smaller songbirds, making them very unpopular with bird watchers and gardeners.  However they are less likely to impact on bird populations than straying cats and studies have shown that the presence of Magpies indicates a healthy songbird population.

  

Identification Features

Upperparts

Blue-green sheen on the black feathers, white ‘braces’ at the base of the wings and white on the primaries; black, wedge-ended tail as long as its body.

Underside

Head, throat and breast completely black; belly and flanks white; legs and beak black.

In Flight

Long tail; blunt, rounded wings; black and white plumage.

Voice Guide

Call is a harsh mechanical chakk-kackk-kackk. Song is more musical with high squeaks. Noisy when alarmed, especially near the nest, for example, by a nearby cat or bird of prey.

Diet

Very varied, ranging from insects, seeds and fruit to carrion, kitchen scraps, eggs and nestlings.

Food to put out

Seed cake, kitchen scraps; dog and cat food.

Nesting Season

Early April to early May.

Nest Location

Nests in a variety of habitats where medium to tall trees are present. Utilises telegraph poles in suburban areas.

Nest

A large nest, visible near the top of a tree before the leaves emerge. The nest is cup-shaped, made of twigs and some mud, lined with finer plant material and sometimes hair. Usually the nest is covered with a loose dome of twigs. The male usually brings the nest material and the female does the building.

Eggs

Five to seven, 35mm, shiny eggs of varying shades of pale blue-green covered with small flecks and spots of dark brown or grey.

Incubation Period

Eighteen to twenty days, by the female.

Fledging Time

26–31 days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

Five years.

Oldest Known Individual

21 years.

Confusion Species

None.

Goldfinch (Lasair Choille)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

Goldfinches declined in numbers in the nineteenth century due to large-scale trapping, especially in the northern half of the island. The introduction of laws protecting birds in the twentieth century has reduced this activity, but illegal trapping still continues in some parts. Goldfinches are constantly on the move, searching for its main food – seeds of thistles and teasels. It is the only finch that can extract the seeds from the teasel (a plant used widely for flower-arranging). It will also feed on the seeds of knapweed, ragwort, groundsel and dandelions. In the last twenty years goldfinches have become increasingly common visitors to gardens, visiting peanut and seed feeders. Goldfinches are particularly attracted to  Nyjer seed, a fine oily and high calorie seed.

  

Identification Features

Same size as a Robin.

Upperparts

Blood-red face; broad bright yellow wing bars; rest of wings black, with white tips to the primaries and secondaries; tail black and white; back is pale golden brown; rump is paler again. Stout, pink conical beak with a dark tip; pink legs.

Underside

White with broad golden-brown flanks; incomplete sandy-brown breast band. Birds just out of the nest are similar to the adults except that the head is completely pale brown.

In Flight

Striking yellow and black wing pattern and undulating flight.

Voice Guide

It has a long beautiful song, containing buzzes, characteristic fluid notes, trills and twitters. Calls almost continuously in flight. The call is simpler than the song and contains more fluid notes.

Diet

A variety of seeds, especially teasels and thistles; some insects in summer.

Food to put out

Peanuts, sunflower and nyjer seed.

Nesting Season

Late April to mid-July.

Nest Location

Nests in a wide variety of habitats with trees including gardens. Nest usually built towards the end of branches, not in dense cover. Like many of its relatives, it nests in loose colonies.

Nest

A tidy cup-shaped nest made of a variety of plant materials and lined with light plant material, wool, hair and/or feathers. Built by the female.

Eggs

Four to six, 18mm, shiny cream or pale blue-green eggs with a scattering of small spots and blotches ranging in colour from red-brown to black, mainly at the broad end of the egg.

Incubation Period

Thirteen to fifteen days, by female who is fed by male.

Fledging Time

Thirteen to sixteen days, fed by both parents. Young remain dependent on the parents for about a week after leaving the nest.

Number of broods reared per year

Two to three.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

Two years.

Oldest Known Individual

Eight years.

Confusion Species

None.

House Sparrow (Gealbhan Binne)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

With an estimated world population of 500 million, the house sparrow is considered to be one of the most widespread and numerous land-bird species in the world. It is encountered throughout Ireland and is most numerous in the eastern half of the island. As the name suggests it has been associated with man for a long time. Can often be seen ‘dust-bathing’ in dust or sand, usually in small groups. This is thought to help remove parasites and keep plumage in good condition. It is a sedentary species and has declined in some areas in recent years. Changes in farming practices, crop spraying and the use of pesticides in gardens are contributing factors. The decline has been far more dramatic in Britain. One study showed that cats accounted for 30 per cent of house sparrow deaths in a village in England.

  

Identification Features

Slightly larger than a Robin.

Male

Black bib, smaller in the winter; grey crown; dark brown eye-stripe extends and widens back and down the nape. Ear coverts and side of throat pale grey, sometimes looking almost white. Breast and belly pencil-grey; tail relatively long, dark-brown with paler buff edges to the feathers; rump grey; back streaked light and dark brown; wings light and dark brown; white wing bar. Short, stout, conical dark-grey beak, pink legs.

Female

No distinctive plumage features, paler than the male, lacking the black, white and richer browns, brown above, paler below.

In Flight

Fast and straight, undulates on longer flights.

Voice Guide

The call is a loud cheep, repeated without variation. Often heard calling and chattering in groups from bushes or hedges, where their dull plumage makes them almost invisible, despite the loud, repetitive noise.

Diet

Seeds, berries; nestlings fed mainly insects.

Food to put out

Seed cake, seed, peanuts, kitchen scraps and bread.

Nesting Season

Late March to mid-July.

Nest Location

Usually nests in holes and cavities in buildings and walls, especially near farmland. Will sometimes build in dense vegetation.  Will nest colonially in nestboxes.

Nest

If not in a cavity, nest will usually have a dome of some description on it. Made of a variety of plant materials and also man-made materials such as string, cloth, plastic. The cup is usually lined with feathers or hair. Built mainly by the male.

Eggs

Three to five, 22mm, slightly shiny cream or pale blue eggs covered with spots, flecks and blotches ranging in colour from dark brown to green-grey, yellow-grey or black.

Incubation Period

Thirteen to fifteen days, mainly by the female.

Fledging Time

Thirteen to fourteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

Two to three.

Nest Box

Hole-entrance box.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Twelve years.

Confusion Species

Tree sparrow is very local and scarce; differs in head pattern with crown completely chestnut-brown; cheeks white with isolated black spot; sexes similar. Female house sparrows may resemble female chaffinches but lack obvious white wing bars.

Greenfinch (Glasán Darach)

Rank
(%)Seen in Irish Gardens
Length(cm)
Wingspan(cm)
Breeding Population(Pairs)

The greenfinch frequents arable farmland and suburban areas, so it is not too surprising that it is more common in the east and south. The increased use of herbicides on farmland has contributed to its decline in recent years. In winter only a few additional birds come to Ireland, mainly from Britain. As winter progresses and the supply of seed diminishes, greenfinches form large flocks, sometimes containing over a hundred birds. They are regular visitors to bird tables and fight fiercely between themselves and with other species for the best place on the peanut-feeder. Threatening with its beak open and wings spread, two greenfinches will often tangle upwards into the air with a flurry of wings before separating.

  

Identification Features

Slightly larger than a Robin.

Male

Bright yellow-green; bright yellow patches on the wings and base of the outer tail feathers; grey on wings and ear coverts; strong conical beak often pink at the base; pink legs.

Female

Drab, paler yellow patches. Male and female both have a dark shadow around the eye.

Immature

Indistinctly streaked below and may resemble female chaffinch.

In Flight

Undulating flight; flashes yellow and green.

Voice Guide

Calls include a squeaky whou-ie-ouh, and buzzing notes. Will sometimes sing during a display flight, with stiff mechanical wing beats. Parts of its long, melodious, twittering song are often likened to that of a canary.

Diet

Mainly seeds; nestlings are fed insects and seeds.

Food to put out

Peanuts, seed and seed cake.

Nesting Season

Early April to late June.

Nest Location

Nests in a variety of open woodland habits, hedgerows and gardens. Usually built in trees or bushes, close to the trunk.

Nest

A substantial cup-shaped nest made of a variety of plant materials lined with strands of plant material, hair and sometimes feathers.

Eggs

Four to six, 20mm, shiny cream or pale blue-green eggs with a scattering of spots and blotches ranging in colour from red-brown to black.

Incubation Period

Thirteen to fifteen days, by the female.

Fledging Time

Fourteen to sixteen days. Fed by both parents who, unlike many garden birds, regurgitate food for their young.

Number of broods reared per year

Two to three.

Nest Box

Open-front box.

Average Lifespan

Two years.

Oldest Known Individual

Twelve years.

Confusion Species

Siskin is smaller. Male: black cap and chin; female and immature: very streaked; black and yellow wings. Female chaffinch has white wing bars and no bright yellow feathers.