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Habitat Restoration And Birds Of Prey

Habitat Restoration and Birds of Prey

Feature Image: BirdWatch Ireland – https://birdwatchireland.ie/birds/buzzard/

Birds of Prey are apex predators that play a crucial role in maintaining environmental health within their habitat by removing weak, old, and sick animals from prey populations to keep prey species and mesopredators under control and in health. This control trickles down the food chain known as a trophic cascade, ensuring the whole food web and ecosystem remain healthy and balanced. Birds of prey are also indicator species. By monitoring populations, we can evaluate how threats impact their environment and other species that share common habitats. 

Birds of Prey face many threats which are predominantly human-related:

  • Environmental pollution: pesticides/rodenticides.
  • Rapid urbanisation and deforestation: loss of nesting and hunting grounds. 
  • Persecution: threat/nuisance, shot/poisoned.
  • Illegal captivity.
White Tailed Eagle Photo: Letsgoireland – https://www.letsgoireland.com/birds-of-prey-ireland/ 

Most Irish Birds of Prey are on the Red or Amber List meaning their populations show increased conservation concern. 

Red-list birds:

  • Barn Owl; Golden-Eagle, White-tailed eagle; Red Kite; Kestrel; Snowy Owl

Amber-list birds: 

  • Short-eared owl; Marsh Harrier; Hen harrier; Goshawk; Merlin

Habitat restoration and increasing bird of prey populations

  • Buzzards were considered extinct in Ireland by the late 19th century due to the use of strychnine poison. Buzzards being carrion eaters were impacted heavily by the use of strychnine in carcasses. Fortunately, the Buzzard population began to recover in Ireland when Scottish buzzards migrated across the Irish Sea. The ban on strychnine in the Republic of Ireland in 1991, provided another opportunity for the population to continue its recovery. Planting native trees as well as the protection and expansion of existing woodlands provides buzzards with safe nesting grounds and plentiful prey, to support their survival. 
  • White-tailed eagles are an iconic site in Ireland as they soar above rivers, lakes and coasts scavenging on dead carcasses, and hunting fish or other birds. Sadly, early in the 20th century, White-tailed eagles were also classified as extinct in Ireland. In 2007, a reintroduction programme commenced and restarted in 2020 which has been showing success. White-tailed eagles commonly nest in trees, so the protection of mature trees and woodlands is critical to their survival. Furthermore, expanding existing woodlands, establishing new wooded areas, and planting native tree species along with building strong relationships with the farming community, will give these fantastic birds of prey the best chance of survival. Before human intervention, 80% of Ireland’s land cover was woodland. Unfortunately, the land cover has been reduced to 11% forest, with less than 2% Native Woodland, highlighting an urgent need to protect and restore habitats and wildlife.
  • As urban development grows and grassland management becomes more intensive, Barn Owls are losing habitat including critical nesting and hunting grounds. These pressures, among others, force hunting Barn Owls into closer proximity to main roads and railway lines, where there is a significantly increased threat of collision. Barn owls are the most threatened species of owl in Ireland. Managing meadows for wildlife, enhancing green spaces, protecting heritage structures, and planting native trees along riparian margins, are all ways to improve the habitat for Barn Owls and their prey species away from busy urban areas.
Barn Owl Photo: LetsgoIreland – https://www.letsgoireland.com/birds-of-prey-ireland/
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