The National Parks and Wildlife Service is to proceed with the reintroduction of the osprey to Ireland this summer.
Osprey are a magnificent fish-eating bird of prey that became extinct in Ireland many years ago but the NPWS has been researching and preparing for the potential reintroduction for a number of years and now expects to reach a significant milestone with the arrival of the first 12 osprey chicks in July.
The reintroduction programme aims to establish a viable, free-ranging osprey population that eventually breeds in Ireland.
The project has been led by a highly experienced NPWS team, headed up by Killarney National Park Divisional Manager Eamonn Meskell and his colleague Dr Phillip Buckley who also led and delivered the ongoing and highly successful white-tailed eagle reintroduction programme.
The experience gained and knowledge acquired during the Eagle programme will be of great benefit to the osprey reintroduction programme.
There are plans to bring 50-70 osprey chicks to Ireland from Norway over a five-year period and the NPWS has drawn on international expertise and learning from around Europe and North America in the development of this programme.
The project has the direct involvement of colleagues from Norway and UK who have led and supported other key species-reintroduction programmes in Europe.
Mr Meskell said the details of construction of holding pens and artificial next sites, feeding and care of birds, their transport and release are based on extensive experience with other psprey reintroduction programmes and with the white-tailed eagle reintroduction programmes over nine years.
“Once the chicks arrive in Ireland we’ll be monitoring their progress and adapting their feeding regime to build towards their eventual release over the summer,” he said.
Although ospreys became extinct in Ireland 150 years ago, Killarney National Park is home to a site known as Osprey Rock on Lough Leane pointing to the bird’s history in Ireland, particularly close to rivers and lakes as it hunts for fish.
While the programme may take some time for the species to begin breeding again, the reintroduction of this fish-eating apex predator will provide significant insights into the health of the Irish ecosystem, and its waters over time.
What they eat: Fish.
Measurements: Length:52-60cm; Wingspan:145-170cm; Weight:1.2-2kg
Feather colour: Brown cream/buff white
Leg colour: Blue
Beak: Black medium length, hooked powerfula nd chunky
Natural habitats: Marine and intertidal wetland
Habitat: The most important habitat requirement is the presence of large watercourses such as rivers, lakes or coastal areas. This ensures an ample supply of medium sized fish near the water surface for them to eat. Clean unpolluted water is highly beneficial to them.
Feeding behaviour: The osprey is a specialist feeder, relying on medium-sized fish, both marine and fresh-water. The bird will fly above the water’s surface to locate fish, sometimes gliding and soaring up to 70 metres high.
Nesting habits: Ospreys are believed to be largely monogamous and strongly faithful both to nest and mate. The nest, called an eyrie, is generally built on the top of a large tree, usually a conifer but deciduous trees are also used. In parts of their range, ospreys may nest on cliff ledges, coastal rocks, buoys and electricity pylons.
Nesting material: The nest is a large structure made of branches and twigs, lined with small twigs, moss, bark and grass. It takes both birds 14-21 days to complete a new nest, which at completion can be 120-150 cm across and 50-60 cm deep. As more material is added in later years, the nest can grow to a depth of 150-200 cm.
Breeding timeline: In the second half of April, the female lays two or three eggs at 1-3 day intervals and incubates them for 37 days per egg. Even though chicks hatch a few days apart, aggression and dominance by the older chick is rare. This asynchronic hatching is typical for most birds of prey.
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