Learn to identify the Top Twenty Irish garden birds

Ireland’s Top 20 + garden birds introduces you to over twenty 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.

1. Robin

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

2. Blackbird

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.

3. Blue Tit

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.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Nine years.

Confusion Species

Great Tit and Coal Tit have black crowns.

4. Great Tit

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.

5. Chaffinch

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.

6. Coal Tit

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.

7. Magpie

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.

8. Goldfinch

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.

9. House Sparrow

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.

10. Greenfinch

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.

11. Dunnock

Dunnock Hedge Sparrow (Bráthair an dreoilín/Dunnóg)

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

This unobtrusive little brown bird has a very complex social system and does not form pairs (as most birds do), but breeds in groups of up to three males and three females, with two males and a female being the most common. In the winter, hedges and ground flora are very important for both food and shelter. A largely sedentary bird, they rarely travel far. It is common, except in some parts of the north and extreme west.

 
  
 

 

Identification Features

 

Similar in size to a robin.

Upperparts: dark brown, streaked black; no obvious wing markings. 

Underside

Dark grey, paler toward the undertail coverts; dark streaking on the flanks; eyes deep red or brown; beak short, thin and black; legs long, thin and reddish-brown. Juveniles boldly streaked on the underparts. When feeding, hops along open ground, usually under bushes, hedgerows or bird tables and feeders.

In Flight

Slightly undulating but not very fast. No noticeable features.

Voice Guide

Call is a high thin seeep. The song is wren-like though not as loud or as long.

Diet

Mostly insects, in winter also seeds.

Food to put out

Crushed peanuts, kitchen scraps and seed on the ground.

Nesting Season

April to mid-June.

Nest Location

The nest is usually well hidden in bushes or undergrowth in a wide range of habitats from gardens to bracken-covered hillsides.

Nest

A cup made of twigs and other plant material lined with moss, hair or sometimes feathers. Built by both male and female.

Eggs

Four to five, 20mm, shiny unmarked bright green-blue eggs, rarely with fine red-brown spots.

Incubation Period

Fourteen days, by the female.

Fledging Time

Twelve to fourteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One to two.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

Two years.

Oldest Known Individual

Eleven years.

Confusion Species

Wren is much smaller, fast moving, pale brown undersides and has a short, stiff, raised tail.

12. Wren

Wren (Dreoilín)

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

A symbol of the dark and earth, the tradition of the ‘wran’ hunt (latterly on St Stephen’s Day), dates back to Neolithic times. The third smallest bird in Europe after the goldcrest and firecrest, it would definitely qualify as one of the noisiest. Its Latin name when translated means, ‘cave-dweller’, which aptly describes its behaviour as it spends most of its time deep inside hedges, bushes and under-growth. Being so small, wrens die in large numbers during very cold weather and indeed they are less common in more exposed areas of the west of the country during the winter months. With an average life span of less than two years, nature ensures its survival by providing many young. Wrens can be polygamous with a male having two or three females with nests.

 
  
 

 

Identification Features

Smaller than a blue tit. A tiny, rusty-brown bird; paler below; pale supercilium; short rounded wings; fairly long, thin down-curved beak; long thin brown legs. Often cocks its tail so high it almost touches the back of its head.

 

In Flight

Low straight buzzing flight.

Voice Guide

The song is very loud, high and energetic. It has a variety of calls, the most noticeable being a loud short tchic,often repeated many times in an irregular, mechanical fashion. Cocks its tail when singing.

Diet

Mainly insects and spiders.

Food to put out

Will occasionally eat breadcrumbs and small bits of cheese on the ground.

Nesting Season

Mid-April to mid-June.

Nest Location

Nests in hollows or cavities in scrub and undergrowth, hedges, stone walls, cliffs, bogs, even old teapots and will occasionally use a blue-tit-type nest box.

Nest

Ball-shaped, made of moss and leaves and has an entrance on the side. The nest is built by the male and lined by the female.

Eggs

Five to seven, 17mm, occasionally as many as sixteen shiny white eggs finely spotted with colours ranging from rusty brown to grey or black, often concentrated at the broad end.

Incubation Period

Seventeen days, by the female.

Fledging Time

Sixteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One.

Nest Box

Open-front or large-hole entrance box.

Average Lifespan

Two years.

Oldest Known Individual

Six years.

Confusion Species

Dunnock is larger, dark grey below, more frequently seen on the ground and has a longer tail which is never raised high in the air. Treecreeper is very white below and never raises its tail.

 

13. Starling

Starling (Druid)

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

Common and widespread, absent only from some upland areas. The starling catches insects by sticking its long, thin beak into grass and opening it wide causing any insects to fall into the space, which can then be easily caught if suitable. In the late autumn and winter, starlings form large flocks, often landing on pylons and overhead wires, before wheeling around in pre-roost flights. The roost is typically in woods and reed beds or on cliffs and buildings. These flocks often contain many thousands of birds, sometimes as many as 100,000. Each winter Irish starlings are joined by birds from Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and Russia. In severe continental winters, many more come and as many as 6 to 8 million may spend the winter here.

 
  
 

 

Identification Features

Slightly smaller than a Blackbird.

 

Adult in winter

Dark, glossy plumage; heavily spotted white, mostly concentrated on the head which can look pale at a distance. These spots become less obvious as spring approaches. Beak dark, pointed, legs dull pink.

Adult in summer

Black plumage with blue and green sheen; few spots, restricted to back and towards tail; beak straw yellow, very pale blue-grey base on males; legs pink.

Immature

Dusty grey-brown; pale throat, pale buff edges to wing feathers; beak black; legs dark brown-red. Rarely seen singly; always quarrelling and noisy.

In Flight

All dark; pointed triangular shaped wings; short, fanned tail.

Voice Guide

The calls and songs of the starling are very varied and it is an expert mimic, not only of other birds but also of artificial sounds like a referee’s whistle, door bells and even car alarms, all mixed up together.

 

Diet

Varied but mainly insects, berries and seeds; usually feeds on ground.

Food to put out

Bread, seed cake and peanuts.

Nesting Season

Early April to end May.

Nest Location

Will nest in a variety of rural and urban habitats, in cavities in trees and roofs or eaves.

Nest

A rough collection of twigs and other plant materials, also man-made materials such as plastic, etc, with a cup lined with feathers. Usually started by the male and finished by the female.

Eggs

Four to six, 30mm, slightly shiny pale blue or white eggs.

Incubation Period

Twelve to fifteen days, by both parents.

Fledging Time

19–22 days, fed by both parents. Young dependent on parents for a while after leaving the nest, often seen chasing them and begging for food.

Number of broods reared per year

One to two.

Nest Box

Hole-entrance box.

Average Lifespan

Five years.

Oldest Known Individual

Seventeen years.

Confusion Species

Blackbird is bigger, no spots, long tail, dark legs.

14. Song Thrush

Song Thrush (Smólach ceoil/Smólach)

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

Like other thrushes, the song thrush likes earthworms and can be seen feeding on large lawns and parks. It also likes snails which it smashes open on a small rock or tree stump, often referred to as an anvil, leaving a large number of broken shells scattered about. In Britain, an alarming increase in the use of snail-killing chemicals in recent years, both commercially and domestically, is thought to be the main cause of a recent decline there. Like the Blackbird, song thrushes from Britain and Scandinavia come here each winter and in severe cold winters thrushes from all over the continent arrive here in large numbers.

 
  
 

 

Identification Features

Slightly smaller and slimmer than a Blackbird.

 

Upperparts

Plain, warm brown;

Underside

Pale buff with conspicuous black spots, arranged so close together as to form lines, thinnest on the throat and upper breast, thickest with largest spots on the flanks and belly; eyes black; beak small and sharp, looks up-tilted; legs long and pink. On open ground often makes short dashes.

In Flight

Mainly unmarked upper parts, pale buff-orange inner underwing.

 

Voice Guide

Its call is a loud thick, repeated several times quickly. The song, delivered from a high leafy perch, roof or TV aerial, is similar to that of a Blackbird, but more musical and structured, containing short phrases repeated clearly, usually two to four times.

Diet

Mainly earthworms and insects. During dry periods will eat snails and in the autumn and winter will eat berries and other fruit also.

Food to put out

May take fruit and kitchen scraps from the ground.

Nesting Season

Mid-March to mid-June.

Nest Location

Usually nests in a well-hidden site in trees or shrubs and occasionally on buildings.

Nest

A neat cup-shaped nest made of a variety of plant materials lined with mud or rotten wood pulp. Nest built by the female.

Eggs

Four to six, 27mm, slightly shiny bright pale green-blue eggs with flecks or spots ranging in colour from dark green to dark rusty red. Usually only a light scattering of marks, rarely concentrated towards the broad end of the egg.

Incubation Period

Twelve to fourteen days, by female.

Fledging Time

Thirteen to fifteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

Two to three.

Nest Box

Nest bundles and occasionally small platforms.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Ten years.

Confusion Species

Redwing a winter visitor, is slightly smaller; pale buff supercilium; dark red-orange on inner underwings and flanks; call a thin tseeep. Mistle thrush is larger, colder brown; white inner underwing; round spots not arranged in lines; stands very upright.

15. Wood Pigeon

Woodpigeon (Colm Coille)

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

As the name suggests, the woodpigeon usually nests in trees and bushes but will also nest in any vegetated area, even on the ground in some locations. Small numbers come here from Britain and mainland Europe in the winter. Known to cause damage to crops, especially during the winter, when it will feed on kale, turnips and clover. It also visits vegetable patches early in the morning and can clean out a whole bed of newly emerging plants very quickly without being seen. In autumn, flocks of up to 15,000 have been recorded and with so much food available survival rates for young are very high. It has been conservatively estimated that as many as 3 million Woodpigeons are in Ireland each autumn. Rather than feed their young insects, pigeons feed them a milk formed from sloughing off fluid-filled cells in the crop lining. It is more nutritious than human or cow’s milk.

 
 
 

 

Identification Features

Slightly smaller and heavier than a Rook.

 

Adult

Pure white neck patches and wing crescents on the wings; pink-grey breast, rest of body greyer; rump and lower back pale blue-grey; tail grey with a dark band on the end, more clearly marked grey and black below; very fat-looking; small head; short red legs; pale yellow and pink beak; pale cream iris.

Immature

Like an adult, but lacks the white neck patches.

In Flight

When flying out of trees it can make a loud racket as its wings hit leaves and branches. Its display flight, used to defend its territory, involves a steep flight upwards ending in loud wing claps and a downward glide, sometimes repeated.

Voice Guide

Its call is a series of loud cooing notes sounding like, ‘Take two, John, take two’. This phrase is often repeated several times and may start in the middle of a phrase.

Diet

Seeds, leaves, berries, buds, beechmast (beechnuts), acorns and root crops.

Food to put out

Seed and bread on the ground.

Nesting Season

Early March to late August.

Nest Location

Usually nests in trees or large shrubs.

Nest

Usually flat, not very thick and made of twigs. Mainly built by the female.

Eggs

Two to three, 41mm long, slightly shiny white eggs.

Incubation Period

Sixteen days, by both parents.

Fledging Time

30–34 days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

One to three.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Seventeen years.

Confusion Species

Feral pigeon comes in all patterns and colours from almost all black to pure white or rusty red. Does not have the white neck patches or wing crescents. Found mainly in urban areas. Stock dove is rarely found in gardens. Lacks the white neck patches and wing crescents and is typically associated with arable farms.

16. Jackdaw

Jackdaw (Cág)

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

More common in towns and cities than other crows, though numerous everywhere, except parts of the extreme west. Perhaps best known for its habit of nesting in chimney pots and is often to be seen sitting in pairs on roofs in winter. During the winter the jackdaw will move away from exposed areas such as uplands. This bird is closely associated with humans, and because of its agility it is numerous around refuse tips and scavenges on rubbish in towns and cities. Also feeds in mixed pastureland in the company of its near relative the rook. It frequently roosts in large numbers, usually at traditional woodland sites, in company with other crow species.

 
  
 

 

Identification Features

A very neat-looking crow. Silver-grey nape and side of neck; rest of the head black; body a duller silver-grey; wings and tail black; pale blue eyes; beak fairly short, black and straight; legs black.

 

In Flight

Short primary ‘fingers’; flocks glide, twist and turn; often seen with Rooks.

Voice Guide

Voice higher pitched than Rook. Includes harsh keyaakand kewkaw, sometimes repeated several times.

Diet

Mainly insects, but also seeds, fruit, kitchen scraps, and any suitable food it comes across.

Food to put out

Bread, seed cake, even peanuts.

Nesting Season

Mid-March to mid-April.

Nest Location

Found in a variety of habitats with suitable nest holes. Will use natural sites such as hollows in trees, but also regularly nests in chimneys. Nests in colonies if at all possible.

Nest

Consists of sticks and twigs lined with hair, wool or fine plant material. In chimneys sticks are wedged across the flue and more twigs are built up around these, often resulting in large quantities of twigs falling down the chimney. Nest built by both the female and male. The same nest is often used year after year.

Eggs

Four to six, 35mm, shiny pale blue-green eggs with usually just a light covering of grey or black flecks and spots.

Incubation Period

Eighteen to twenty days by the female, fed by the male.

Fledging Time

30–33 days, young fed by both parents. May not be able to fly properly for up to a week after fledging during which time the young are dependent on the parents for food.

Number of broods reared per year

One.

Nest Box

Large hole-entrance box.

Average Lifespan

Five years.

Oldest Known Individual

Fifteen years.

Confusion Species

Rook, especially young birds. No silvery grey plumage on the head, larger beak and a dark iris.

17. Collared Dove

Collared Dove (Fearán Baicdhubh)

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

The Collared Dove is a recent colonist of Ireland. In 1930 the nearest breeding birds were in Yugoslavia. Following an amazing population explosion, 29 years later it was breeding over most of Europe and reached Ireland in 1959 when it was first recorded in Counties Down, Dublin and Galway. It first bred in Counties Kildare, Kilkenny and Louth as recently as 1969. Now it is estimated that as many as 30,000 pairs breed in Ireland. Less likely to be found over high ground and more open countryside. A regular but wary visitor to bird tables. Often perches on overhead wires and lamp posts where it delivers its monotonous song.

 
 
 

 

Identification Features

Slim, sand-coloured dove.

 

Upperparts

Brown back and inner wing, dark brown-black outer primaries.

Underside

Pale grey-brown underside, distinctive but not always noticeable black half-collar at base of the neck; beak short, thin and dark; eyes dark red; legs short and powdery pink.

In Flight

Flies straight with fast jerky wing beats. In display flight it glides with stiff, slightly down-curved wings and fanned tail, clearly showing the pale underwing and white undertail with a black band at the base.

Voice Guide

Its call is a gentle ‘cooing’ sound phrased like ‘can yoouuu coo’ repeated two or more times.

Diet

Mainly seeds of weeds and cereal crops. Will sometimes eat shoots and insects.

Food to put out

Seed and bread.

Nesting Season

March to September.

Nest Location

Nests in trees and sometimes ledges on buildings.

Nest

A light flat platform made of twigs. Mainly built by the female.

Eggs

Two to three, 31mm long, shiny white eggs.

Incubation Period

16 days by both parents.

Fledging Time

Seventeen to nineteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year

Three to six.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

Three years.

Oldest Known Individual

Sixteen years.

Confusion Species

None.

18. Siskin

Siskin (Píobaire)

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

Siskins breed mainly in coniferous plantations, particularly spruce. The recent increase in forestry plantations has led to a corresponding increase in its population. In winter it is has become a regular visitor to bird tables where it can be very aggressive despite its small size. It has a characteristic habit of perching upside down when feeding from peanut feeders.  Numbers visiting gardens vary from year to year, depending on the availability of natural food supplies, such as birch and alder seeds, usually turning up in gardens from December onwards. Often associates with redpolls.

 
  
 

 

Identification Features

Same size as a Blue Tit.

 

Male

Black cap and throat; head dark olive green with pale yellow stripe extending from the eye back to the nape and down around the ear coverts; wings black with two bright yellow wing bars and pale edges to the secondaries; back olive green with faint dark streaks; rump yellow, short notched tail with yellow patches at base of outer feathers; breast and upper belly green-yellow; lower belly and undertail coverts white with dark streaking. Short, pale, conical beak, and dark grey legs.

Female

No black cap or chin; not as yellow, especially on the wings; heavier streaking on the back.

Immature

Paler and more streaked than female.

In Flight

Small, yellow and black; fast and undulating.

Voice Guide

Calls and song include a variable twitter, a very thin tee-oou, a buzzing wheeeze and a high, bouncing, chattering trill.

Diet

Seeds, especially conifer seeds, alder and birch. Siskins will also take insects from the undersides of leaves in summer and autumn.

Food to put out

Peanuts and nyjer seed.

Nesting Season

Early April to end May.

Nest Location

Nests mainly in coniferous or mixed woodlands. Usually built towards the end of a branch, may be high up.

Nest

A cup-shaped nest made of small twigs, lichens and mosses and other plant material. Lined with strands of plant material, hair, wool and feathers.

Eggs

Three to five, 16 mm, shiny pale blue eggs with a light scattering of red-brown and purple blotches and streaks.

Incubation Period

Twelve to fourteen days, by the female.

Fledging Time

Thirteen to fifteen days. Fed initially by the male, while the female broods the young, then by both parents, delivering food by regurgitation.

Number of broods reared per year

Two.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

No data available.

Oldest Known Individual

Nine years.

Confusion Species

Greenfinch is much bigger, obvious large conical beak, no streaking on the plumage. Redpoll lacks yellow plumage and males have a red forehead and black chin.

19. Rook

Rook (Rúcach/Préachán)

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

One of the first comments by visiting birdwatchers from abroad concerns the abundance of crows on this island. The rook is by far the most common crow species we have, absent only from treeless areas in the extreme west. Unlike the Jackdaw, it prefers rural areas, especially where there is a good mixture of pasture and arable crops. It nests in colonies called rookeries, liking Scots pines, but any tall trees will do. Rookeries can vary from a few scattered pairs, to many hundreds of nests tightly packed together. The sound of a rookery in spring and summer is as much part of the countryside as cows and sheep. In late summer and autumn on their flight paths a large procession of crows can be seen going to roost for the night. In winter it follows very specific flight paths to roost sites that may contain thousands of individuals.

 
 
 

 

Identification Features

All feathers are black with a purple-blue sheen; duller, sometimes dark brown when worn. Long beak looks slightly down-curved.

 

Adult

Outer half of beak dark; inner half and bare throat patch powdery white; black legs and untidy feathers around the thighs, giving it a ‘shaggy trousers’ appearance. Not as neat-looking as the jackdaw. Moves slowly and deliberately on the ground, often ‘galloping’ away if approached.

Immature

Rooks in their first year have an all-black beak with black feathers covering the inner half of the upper mandible.

In Flight

The primaries can clearly be seen as ‘fingers’ at the end of the wings, not so noticeable on Jackdaws.

Voice Guide

Call is a typical kaw, uttered on its own or repeated several times; when calling while perched or on the ground often fans its tail and stretches forward.

Diet

Very varied: mainly beetles, earthworms, carrion and grain.

Food to put out

Bread, tinned cat or dog food, kitchen scraps on the ground.

 

Nesting Season

Late March to the beginning of May.

Nest Location

Nests in noisy colonies in tall trees. Breeds in a variety of habitats where tall trees are present, especially near farmland.

Nest

Made of sticks and twigs with some earth and lined with a variety of plant materials, and sometimes wool and hair. The same nest may be used every year following repairs. The male usually brings the nest material and the female does the building.

Eggs

Three to five, 40mm, shiny, highly variable blue-green eggs covered with flecks, blotches and scribbles of grey-brown. Eggs in the same nest can vary a lot in colour and pattern.

Incubation Period

Fifteen to eighteen days by the female, fed by the male.

Fledging Time

31–35 days, fed by the male initially and then by both parents. The young usually stay at the colony for a few days after fledging.

Number of broods reared per year

One.

Nest Box

No.

Average Lifespan

Five years.

Oldest Known Individual

Nineteen years.

Confusion Species

Raven is much bigger; massive black beak; wedge-shaped tail; very rare in gardens. Jackdaw is smaller; silver-grey on head; pale eyes.

20. Blackcap

Blackcap (Caipín dubh)

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

Mainly a summer visitor from Africa to deciduous woodlands, where it can be difficult to see, but the jaunty song is notable. Over the last 25 years blackcaps have been over-wintering in Ireland in increasing numbers. These individuals come here from a separate, continental European breeding population. In winter, areas of ivy with berries are worth checking for this neat bird as are cordyline trees, where the fruiting bracts are similarly attractive. When visiting bird tables, for apples or peanuts, it can behave quite aggressively, chasing other birds away.

   
 

Identification features

Same size as a robin. Male: neat, jet black cap; cold brown-grey upperparts; pale throat and undertail. Female: less distinctive, pale, chestnut-brown cap, slightly browner overall.

Voice guide: The call is a harsh tcek repeated many times if alarmed. The song is a series of very varied warbling notes, becoming louder towards the end.

Diet: insects in the summer, otherwise seed, berries and fruit.

Food to put out: seed cake, seed, peanuts and fruit.

Nesting season: late April to mid-June.

Nest location: open deciduous, coniferous or mixed woodland with bushes and undergrowth.

Nest: a small neat cup-shaped nest made of a variety of plant materials, occasionally with wool and hair and lined with fine grass and hair. Built by both female and male.

Eggs: four to six, 20mm, shiny, unevenly coloured cream eggs sometimes with a tint of red with a few spots, flecks or scribbles of dark brown.

Incubation period: twelve to fourteen days, by female and male.

Fledging time: ten to thirteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year: one to two.

Nest box: no.

Average lifespan: two years.

Oldest known individual: ten years.

Confusion species: None.

21. Bullfinch
 

Corcrán coille  
  Rank Seen in
Length = 16cm 

Wingspan = 25–26cm

Breeding Population: 100,000 pairs

21

Garden Bird Survey

51%

of gardens in Ireland

 

Identification features

A large thick set finch, larger than a robin, plump in proportion. Male: jet black crown and nape; throat, breast and belly vivid, deep pink; light grey back; black wings with a broad white wing bar; large white rump patch (best seen in flight); black tail; undertail coverts white; short, stout, dark, conical beak; dark grey legs. Female: vivid pink replaced by dull pale grey-brown; back also grey-brown. Immature: like female but lacks black cap. In flight: bouncing flight, always showing bright white rump.

Male Bullfinch (c. Oran O’Sullivan)
Female Bullfinch (c.Oran O’Sullivan)

 

Voice guide: Song is a soft whistling chatter, the call a weak, soft weeep.

Diet: berries and other fruit, and emerging buds. Will feed insects to nestlings.

Food to put out: Will occasionally take seed on the ground.

 Nesting season: late April to mid-July.

Nest location: usually in a bush about 1–2m off the ground in areas with trees and low bushes and undergrowth, hedgerows and gardens.

Nest: a cup-shaped nest of small twigs, moss and lichens, usually lined with strands of plant material and hair. Built by the female.

Eggs: four to five, 20 mm, shiny pale green-blue eggs with dark brown or black spots and blotches mainly near the broad end of the egg.

Incubation period: thirteen to fifteen days, by the female while being fed by the male.

Fledging time: fourteen to sixteen days. Fed by male at first while female broods the chicks, then by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year: two to three.

Nest box: no.

 

Average lifespan: two years.

Oldest known individual: nine years.

 

General information

This finch is widespread in Ireland, being absent only from the extreme west and at high altitudes. Despite the colourful plumage of the male, it is not seen very often, though the soft contact call is a feature of our mixed native hedgerows. In fact, seeing an emerging bird with the large white rump patch is often the first indication of its presence. Between February and April if seed supplies are low it will take to eating buds from fruit trees (research has shown that a fruit tree can lose up to 50 per cent of its buds in spring without affecting the crop). Bullfinches are a sedentary species, usually seen alone or in pairs. Recent farming trends such as intensification of farming and hedgerow removal have contributed to their decline in some areas.

 

Confusion species

Male chaffinch (p. 146) lacks black on the head and breast not as red.

 

22. Long-tailed Tit

Meantán earrfhada  
   Rank Seen in
Length = 12–14cm 

Wingspan = 17–18cm

Breeding Population: 40,000 pairs

22

Garden Bird Survey

50%

of gardens in Ireland

 

Identification features

Smaller than a robin. Out-sized black and white tail, as long as its small, dull-pink, black and white body. Upperparts: head grey-white with broad black stripe above the eye; back and wings black with pink patches at the base of the wings; pale edges to the secondaries. Underside: throat and breast dirty white, becoming grey-pink on the belly and undertail; orange-red eye rings; black eyes and legs; tiny beak. In flight: reluctant to fly even short distances. Weak, slightly undulating flight. Usually seen in shrub or tree canopy, forming restless feeding flocks, ranging in size from three or four to over twenty birds.

Long-tailed Tit (c. Oran O’Sullivan) 

Voice guide: Flocks in winter can be quite noisy, making a variety of calls, including a short low chrup and a faster thin ssee-ssee-ssee. Its song is similar to its call notes.

 

Diet: mainly small insects, caterpillars, spiders, including larvae and eggs.

Food to put out: seedcake, seed and peanuts.

 

Nesting season: late March to late April.

Nest location: Breeds in woodland areas with a preference for dense undergrowth. Also nests in thick hedgerows and in trees.

Nest: nest resembles an elongated ball, containing sometimes up to 2,000 feathers, held together by spiders’ webs, and very well camouflaged by a covering of lichens. Nest built by both the female and male.

Eggs: six to eight, 14 mm, shiny white or pale cream eggs with variable red-brown flecks and spots ranging from just a few to covering the egg and sometimes concentrated towards the broad end.

Incubation period: thirteen to sixteen days, mainly by the female.

Fledging time: fifteen to seventeen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year: one.

Nest box: no.

 

Average lifespan: two years.

Oldest known individual: eight years.

General information

During winter nights a long-tailed tit flock, which is comprised of family members and relatives, will huddle close together for warmth. During the winter days it remains with the flock, which helps it to find food more successfully and so survive the winter. In spring the flock breaks up and each pair sets up a territory.

Confusion species

None.

 

23. Goldcrest

Cíorbhuí/Dreoilín easpaig  
   Rank Seen in
Length = 9cm 

Wingspan = 13–14cm

Breeding Population: 300,000 pairs

23

Garden Bird Survey

44%

of gardens in Ireland

 

Identification features

Tiny, smaller than a wren. Large head with a stripe on the centre of the crown, orange on the male and yellow on the female, bordered by black; gives the bird its name. Adult: olive green above and pale grey below. Wings are dark brown with pale edges to both primaries and secondaries, forming a pale panel on the closed wing; noticeable buff wing bar; very short, thin black beak; pink-brown legs. Black eye looks relatively large, a feature accentuated by a broad pale area around the eye. Immature: young birds lack the crown stripe. In flight: weak, slightly undulating flight, rapid wing beats. Flits from branch to branch and often hovers while catching insects on leaves.

Goldcrest (c. R. Coombes)

Voice guide: Its call, usually heard before the bird is seen, is a very thin, high-pitched, erratic szitt-szitt-szitt. Its song is also very high-pitched and includes a rapid fh-he-hee, usually repeated four times, followed by a similar more varied phrase.

Diet: Insects, especially greenfly, caterpillars and also spiders.

Food to put out: May take seed cake, fat or grated cheese.

Goldcrest (c. R. Coombes)

 

Nesting season: mid-April to mid-June.

Nest location: Prefers coniferous woodland, but also mixed woodland, parks and gardens with coniferous trees or bushes.

Nest: a small cup-shaped nest, which hangs from a branch. The nest is built from mosses and lichens and held together by spiders’ webs. Usually lined with feathers. Built by the female and the male.

Eggs: six to nine, 14mm, matt cream or pale brown eggs covered with fine red-brown flecks often concentrated near the broad end of the egg.

Incubation period: fifteen to seventeen days, by the female.

Fledging time: seventeen to nineteen days, fed by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year: two.

Nest box: no.

Average lifespan: two years.

Oldest known individual: five years.

General information

The goldcrest is the smallest bird in Europe and weighs just 6g. It feeds on insects, which it catches by inspecting what appears to be every inch of every leaf it comes across. In summer it raises two broods, starting the second when the first is only half-grown, and laying eggs adding up to almost twice its body weight in one brood. In winter, goldcrests from Britain and northern Europe join our own, and noticeable decreases in its population are recorded following severe winters. Goldcrests sometimes join roving flocks of tit species in winter.

Confusion species

Willow warbler (p. 114) and chiffchaff (p. 112) are similar in size and appearance but lack markings on the head and do not have wing bars.

 

24. Redwing

Deargán sneachta  
   Rank Seen in
Length = 20–22cm 

Wingspan = 33–35cm

Winter population: no data

24

Garden Bird Survey

44%

of gardens in Ireland

 Identification features

Smaller than a blackbird. Rusty red flanks and inner underwing, large cream supercillium, white breast and belly with dark streaking on the breast and flanks. In flight: flies straight, usually not alone. Inner part of the underwing dark rusty red, unlike that of the song thrush which is mid-brown.

 Voice guide: The call is a distinctive high wheezing tzeeee, often heard from migrating birds passing overhead at night, in late autumn and

winter.

Redwing (c. R. Coombes)

 

Diet: Insects, also berries in autumn and winter.

Food to put out: apples on the ground.

 

Nesting season: Breeds from late April to end June in a variety of habitats from woodlands to gardens in Iceland, northern Europe and Russia. Has never been recorded breeding in Ireland.

Nest: a cup-shaped nest made from a variety of plant materials, sometimes lined with mud and then thin strands of grass. Built by the female.

Eggs: four to six, 26mm, shiny pale blue or green-blue or grey eggs covered with fine flecks of red-brown.

Incubation period: twelve to fifteen days, usually by the female.

Fledging time: eleven to fifteen days.

Number of broods reared per year: two.

 

Average lifespan: no data available.

Oldest known individual: twelve years.

 

General information

The redwing is a winter visitor to Ireland. Rarely seen alone, they often form flocks of hundreds and sometimes thousands of individuals. The less numerous fieldfare often joins these flocks. The redwing migrates from its breeding grounds in Iceland and northern Europe and can be heard at night flying overhead in late autumn and winter. The Irish name for this bird, deargán sneachta – which means ‘the red one of the snow’ – shows that in Ireland it was associated with cold weather and indeed during very harsh winter weather large numbers fly to Ireland to escape freezing weather conditions on the continent.

 

Confusion species

Song thrush (p. 104) and mistle thrush (p. 108) lack the rusty red colour on the flanks and inner underwing and do not have a pale supercilium.

 

25. Redpoll

Deargéadan/Gleoisín cúldearg  
  Rank Seen in
Length = 12–13cm 

Wingspan = 21–22cm

Breeding Population: 70,000 pairs

25

Garden Bird Survey

40%

of gardens in Ireland

Identification features

Slightly larger than a blue tit. Male: blood-red forehead; black bib; back streaked light and dark brown; wings darker with two pale buff wing bars, the inner one being very faint; rump pale with faint dark streaks; tail short and slightly notched; breast deep pink in breeding season, buff in winter; belly and undertail coverts white; flanks heavily streaked light and dark brown; short, stubby, pale yellow beak; legs short and black. Female and immature: no red, duller and more streaked. In flight: very bouncy flight.

Redpolls on Nyjer feeder (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

Voice guide: Calls and song include a high, thin rising oiu-eeee, also short, fast reeling notes and a chi-chi-chi-chaa.

Diet: mainly seeds; birch and alder seeds form the main part of diet. Will eat insects during the summer.

Food to put out: peanuts and nyjer seed.

Redpoll (c. Oran O’Sullivan)

Nesting season: early May to mid-July.

Nest location: Nests in birch and conifer woodlands/plantations and open scrub areas. The nest is built in a tree or bush anywhere from very close to the ground to high in a tree. Will sometime nest close to other nesting redpolls.

Nest: an untidy cup made of small twigs, grass and other plant material, lined with strands of fine plant material, hair and/or feathers.

Eggs: four to five, 17mm, slightly shiny pale green-blue eggs with a light scattering of red-brown flecks and blotches, most towards the broad end of the egg.

Incubation period: eleven to fourteen days, by the female while being fed by the male.

Fledging time: fourteen to sixteen days. Fed by male at first while female broods the chicks, then by both parents.

Number of broods reared per year: two.

Nest box: no.

 

Average lifespan: unknown.

Oldest known individual: eight years.

 

General information

A bird typical of coniferous and mixed woodlands, the redpoll breeds mainly in the north-western half of the country. It has declined as a breeding species in recent years, especially in the southeastern half of the country. In winter it is rarely found far from alders and birch, feeding acrobatically, often in the company of siskins. Redpolls of the north European and Greenland races, which are paler, have been seen in Ireland.

 

Confusion species

Linnet (p. 156) is bigger; grey beak; less streaked; white on the wings. Siskin (p. 154) is similar in size and body pattern but has yellow patches and no red on the head.