Ospreys have made a historic return to Ireland after more than two centuries, with a breeding pair spotted in County Fermanagh. Ulster Wildlife confirmed the news, stating that the pair had successfully bred at a confidential nest site. The osprey, also known as a fish hawk, has naturally recolonized the area. Conservationists believe that there are at least two, possibly three, chicks that have hatched.
Giles Knight, an environmental farming scheme advisor with Ulster Wildlife, made the groundbreaking discovery. He had been observing the breeding pair for the past three seasons during his local farm visits. “I have been keeping this news close to my chest for a long time to ensure the safety and welfare of these spectacular but vulnerable birds,” he said. “Along with my son Eoin, I have watched the adults return to the same site since 2021, so you can imagine my excitement the moment that I saw three chicks and two adults this year. It was a rub-your-eyes, once-in-a-lifetime moment; an absolute highlight of my 30-year wildlife career – like finding long-lost treasure.”
Knight emphasized the significance of the ospreys’ breeding success, stating, “With at least two of the chicks fledging this season, this is a huge conservation success story and indicates a healthy wetland ecosystem with plenty of suitable habitat and fish to bring this apex predator back to our skies and plunging into the Fermanagh Lakelands.”
Ospreys are medium-sized raptors and are a protected species. They have a distinctive appearance, with a white head and a brown eyestripe. These birds are fish specialists and rarely consume anything else. They are commonly found near bodies of water, including freshwater inland rivers and loughs, as well as coastal estuaries and shorelines.
The ospreys were believed to have become extinct as breeding birds in Ireland during the late 18th century due to persecution. While they have been sighted during migration to and from sub-Saharan Africa, confirmed breeding in Ireland has been elusive until now, with Scotland serving as their UK breeding stronghold.
Dr. Marc Ruddock from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group expressed his excitement about the ospreys’ return, calling it “truly brilliant news.” He emphasized the importance of keeping the location of the nest confidential to avoid disturbing the birds. “Now these birds are back in Ireland and breeding successfully, it is critical that they are left in peace so their numbers can continue to grow by returning year on year to breed,” he said. Dr. Ruddock expressed hope that this could be the start of a raptor dynasty and praised the support of the landowner, local farming community, and partners in welcoming the ospreys’ return.
Efforts to monitor ospreys, erect nesting platforms, and plan for translocation and re-introduction programs have been ongoing across Ireland for many years. Earlier this year, Darragh O’Brien, the Minister for Housing, Local Government, and Heritage, announced that the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) would be embarking on a re-introduction project for the species. The plan was to release chicks in the southeast of the country during the summer months.
The return of ospreys to Ireland marks a significant milestone in the country’s conservation efforts. It is a testament to the dedication of wildlife enthusiasts, conservation organizations, and local communities in creating a suitable environment for these magnificent birds to thrive once again.