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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Ospreys breed in Ireland for the first time in over 200 years

A pair of ospreys

A pair of ospreys have bred at a confidential nest site in County Fermanagh – a first in Ireland for more than 200 years.

This beautiful bird of prey, also known as a fish hawk, has re-colonised naturally in the area and has successfully produced at least two, possibly three chicks – the first known wild osprey chicks on the island of Ireland in modern times.  

The historic discovery was made by Giles Knight, Environmental Farming Scheme Advisor with Ulster Wildlife, who has been observing the breeding pair for the last three seasons alongside his local farm visits in the area.  

“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. 

“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. Truly the return of a living countryside!” 

One of the adult ospreys pictured in Fermanagh.

One of the adult ospreys pictured in Fermanagh. Image: Giles Knight

Ospreys are thought to have become extinct as a breeding bird in Ireland in the late 18th century due to systematic persecution. Although often sighted on migration to and from sub-Saharan Africa, confirmed breeding in Ireland has been elusive until now with Scotland their UK breeding stronghold.  

Dr Marc Ruddock from the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group was delighted with this positive development. 

“All the signs and sightings in recent years have been pointing towards this, but now actual breeding success has finally been confirmed – truly brilliant news!” he said.   

To avoid disturbance, close local liaison has been ongoing around the undisclosed site.  

Mr Knight added: “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. We believe and hope that this could be the start of a raptor dynasty.  

“It has been both encouraging and heartwarming to see the landowner, the local farming community and our partners welcome the ospreys’ return. Their ongoing support will enable future generations to enjoy these magnificent birds far into the future." 

Across Ireland, osprey monitoring, the erection of nesting platforms, and planning for translocation and re-introduction programmes have been ongoing for many years. These efforts have now been boosted by Fermanagh’s naturally established pair.  

About Ospreys

  • Conservation status: Listed on the Amber List of UK birds of conservation concern because of the long-term population decline and protected at all times under the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985.  Under article 27 anyone found to have injured or killed an osprey are ‘Liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both’.  Osprey nests are listed on Schedule A1 of the Wildlife (NI) Order 1985 and are therefore protected at all times.

  • The osprey is a medium-sized raptor. It has a white head with a distinctive brown eyestripe. Both males and females are generally white below and darker (brown) from above. 

  • Often mistaken in flight for a very large gull or a buzzard but has a characteristic ‘M’ shape flight profile made by bending its wings.  

  • The osprey is a fish-specialist, rarely eating anything else. It is usually found near water, including freshwater inland rivers and loughs as well as coastal estuaries and shorelines.  

  • Its 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, man-made platforms and even on the ground. 

  • Ospreys often nest in the same treetop eyrie for up to 20 years and are largely monogamous and strongly faithful to both nest and mate. 


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