Wintering Birds

Wintering waterbirds at Irish wetlands

Birdwatch Ireland has recently published the status of Ireland’s wintering waterbird species for 97 lakes, rivers and coastal estuaries across Ireland. We now have an online report which allows us to see the increase/decrease in numbers of different species of ducks, waders and other waterbirds at your local wetland, and how that compares to the national trend.

This report comes as a result of the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS) surveys which have been running annually since 1994. The I-WeBS surveys are conducted during the winter month to record swans, geese, ducks, waders and other waterbirds which arrive on our shores to escape the harsh conditions in their Arctic breeding grounds. Over a thousand volunteer birdwatchers have contributed to the I-WeBS surveys since the first surveys in 1994/1995.

The report focuses on 36 wintering waterbird species at 97 of the most closely monitored wetland sites across 15 counties in Ireland. The level of increase or decrease for each of the species across each site was calculated. This information can be used to aid in conservation actions at specific locations at county level. This report is also important from a planning context as this data can be used when carrying out Appropriate Assessments (AA) for plans or projects that may affect an SPA.

The largest declines were seen in Goldeneye, Pochard and Scaup which are all species of diving duck. These species dropped 65 – 90% on average since the mid 90’s across all 97 sites analysed. Pressures affecting this group of ducks include climate change, habitat loss, poor water quality, disturbance on lakes and at estuaries which all result in less of these species returning to our shores each year. The plight of the breeding curlew is already well known and although curlew numbers swell in winter, this species has also seen a decline of 43% since the mid 90’s. Irelands national bird the lapwing has declined by 64% since the mid 90’s with their close relative the golden plover suffering the same decline.

One of the main increases was seen in black-tailed godwit which has increased 92% since the mid 90’s. Mute swan, little grebe and grey heron are all stable or increasing in numbers across the country. The little egret has been steadily increasing in numbers since it first arrived 20 years ago and can now be found throughout the country.

Sanderling are a species with a mixed report. The number of sanderling in Ireland are 85% higher now than they were when monitoring began but in the last five years their numbers have decreased by 24%. This recent decline in the number of sanderling are a cause for concern and there is a risk that other species with long term increased could see similar drops in numbers over a similar period.


Kennedy, J., Burke, B., Fitzgerald, N., Kelly, S.B.A., Walsh, A.J. & Lewis, L.J. 2022. Irish Wetland Bird Survey: I-WeBS National and Site Trends Report 1994/95 – 2019/20. BirdWatch Ireland Waterbird Report to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. BirdWatch Ireland, Wicklow. (


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