Northern Ireland

Whitethroat Sylvia communis ©Ian Dickey

Northern Ireland is currently part of the United Kingdom in the northeast of the island of Ireland, variously described as a country, province or region. It is part of the historical province of Ulster which also includes the Republic of Ireland’s counties of Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. Northern Ireland shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland. It has a population of just over 1,900,000 people, constituting about 28% of the island’s total population and under 3% of the UK’s population. Belfast is the capital and by far largest city, followed by Derry.

Northern Ireland consists of ceremonial six counties that are no longer administrative units, but are still convenient recording areas (except in the case of Lough Neagh, where five of the county boundaries meet at various points in the largest inland body of water in the British Isles – it covers 153 square miles).

It was covered by an ice sheet for most of the last ice age and on numerous previous occasions, the legacy of which can be seen in the extensive coverage of drumlins in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Antrim and particularly Down. The centrepiece of Northern Ireland’s geography is Lough Neagh, at 391k² (153 square miles) the largest freshwater lake both on the island of Ireland and in the British Isles. The largest island of Northern Ireland is Rathlin, off the north Antrim coast. Strangford Lough is the largest inlet in the British Isles, covering 58 square miles.

Birding Northern Ireland

For a small area Northern Ireland has diverse habitat. The coastline encompasses four major estuaries (Lough Foyle, Belfast Lough, Strangford Lough and Carlingford Lough). Some lakes support internationally important bird populations, Lough Neagh and Lough Beg hold up to 80,000 wintering waterfowl of some 20 species, including ducks, geese, swans and gulls. The Lower and Upper River Bann, River Foyle and River Blackwater form extensive fertile lowlands, with excellent arable land also found in North and East Down, although much of the hill country is marginal and suitable largely for animal husbandry.

The Mourne Mountains in south county Down have the highest ground with Slieve Donard at 2,796 feet, and over a dozen peaks over 2,000 feet. A lot of county Antrim is an elevated basalt plateau between 1,000 and 1,200 feet. Fermanagh in the southwest is the Lakeland of Northern Ireland with Upper and Lower Lough Erne, and numerous small lakes dotted across the landscape. Tyrone and Londonderry have the rather bleak high ground of the Sperrin Mountains. Yet it is possible to drive nearly anywhere from the Belfast in several hours.

Only 8% of Northern Ireland is woodland, and most of this is non-native conifer plantations. Many birds which are common residents in Britain and continental Europe are rare or unusual in Ireland, examples include Tawny Owl, Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, and all woodpecker species except the recently established Great Spotted Woodpecker. These are birds which do not move great distances and their absence may be due to Ireland’s early isolation, but also Ireland’s mild weather means early breeding and choice of best habitats which gives residents an advantage over visitors. However, across Ireland there are important populations of species that are in decline elsewhere. Storm Petrels (largest breeding numbers in the world), Roseate Tern, Chough, and Corncrake. Three-quarters of the world population of Pale-bellied Brent geese winter in Strangford Lough in County Down. Four species of bird have Irish subspecies. These are Coal Tit (Parus ater hibernicus), Dipper (Cinclus cinclus hibernicus), Jay (Garrulus glandarius hibernicus), and Red Grouse ( Lagopus lagopus hibernicus).  Golden Eagles have been recently reintroduced after decades of extinction (Reintroduction Programme in County Donegal). Another conservation effort is habitat management to encourage the Red-necked Phalarope. White-tailed Eagle were reintroduced to the Republic of Ireland (young eagles being released in Killarney National Park) after an absence of over 200 years from the island of  Ireland and are expected to spread across the island. Red Kite were introduced and now flourish in Northern Ireland.  There are plans for the common crane to also return to Ireland in the future. While the osprey and marsh harrier have slowly returned to Ireland naturally.

  • George Gordon


County Recorder
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 370

  • nibirds

    Northern Ireland List - Report sightings to: Email
Useful Reading

  • Birds in Ireland

    Clive D Hutchinson & John Busby | T & A D Poyser | 2010 | Hardback | 215 pages, b/w illustrations, b/w ddistribution maps, tables | ISBN: 9781408137017 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Ireland: A Field Guide

    By Jim Wilson & Mark Carmody | Gill & Macmillan | 2024 | Edition 2 | Paperback | 304 pages, 1600+ colour photos, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9781804580721 Buy this book from
  • Collins Bird Guide

    (The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe) | by Killian Mullarney, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterstrom (Illustrator) | HarperCollins | 2023 | Edition 3 | Paperback | 478 pages, 4000+ colour illustrations, 700 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780008547462 Buy this book from
  • Collins Top Birding Spots in Britain and Ireland

    by David Tipling | Harper Collins | 1996 | Paperback | 320 pages | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780002200356 Buy this book from
  • Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland

    By Mark Golley & David Daly | Bloomsbury Publishing | 2016 | Paperback | 208 pages, colour illustrations | Out of Print | ISBN: 9781472917461 Buy this book from
  • Finding Birds in Ireland: The Complete Guide

    By Eric Dempsey & Michael O'Clery | Gill & Macmillan | 2014 | Edition 2 | Paperback | 389 pages, 300 colour photos, colour maps | ISBN: 9780717159253 Buy this book from
  • The Complete Field Guide to Ireland's Birds

    By Eric Dempsey & Michael Cleary | Gill & Macmillan | 2010 | Paperback | 272 pages, 250 colour illustrations | ISBN: 9780717146680 Buy this book from
  • The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland

    by Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens | Princeton University Press | 2013 | Paperback | 301 pages, 310 plates with colour photos, 250 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780691151946 Buy this book from
  • Where to Watch Birds in Ireland

    by Paul Milne & Clive Hutchinson | Christopher Helm | 2009 | Paperback | 336 pages | Out of Print | ISBN: 9781408105214 Buy this book from
Useful Information
  • Irish Tourist Board

    53 Castle Walk Street, Belfast - Phone (028)9032 7888
  • Northern Ireland Tourist Board

    Belfast Welcome Centre, 35 Donegall Place - Phone (028) 9024 6609 for the many regional tourist offices, details can be obtained here
  • Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens

    Northern Ireland BT9 5AB. Phone (028) 9038 3000. Fax (028) 9038 3003
  • BTO Northern Ireland

    Twitter Page
    Twitter feed for BTO Northern Ireland. The BTO is the UK’s leading bird research organisation. With 40,000 amazing volunteers we monitor the UK's birds.
  • NIRBC Northern Ireland Rare Birds Committee

    Northern Ireland Rare Birds Committee - Maintaining the NI Bird List
  • Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association

    Contact George Gordon, 2 Brooklyn Avenue, Bangor, Co Down, Northern Ireland BT20 5RB Phone (028) 9145 5763. E-mail - Runs Flightline Birdline updated daily (028) 9046 7408 to hear the latest news or to leave a message. Flightline is not a premium line (calls are only charged at local rates); and is a service provided by Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association. It can also be sent via e-mail.
  • Northern Ireland Ornithologists Club

    The Northern Ireland Ornithologists' Club was formed in 1965. its purpose then, as now, was to focus the interests of active and enthusiastic birders. The club's activities are arranged by a committee, elected at the Annual General Meeting held each January. These activities are mainly fortnightly meetings, which take the form of illustrated talks by club members or guest speakers, held between October and April, and a series of Field Trips. The club tries to have at least two of the speakers from outside Northern Ireland. Each year the club also organises a major exhibition of colour transparencies taken by Northern Ireland bird photographers.
  • Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group

    The Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, founded in 1991, is a network of voluntary raptor fieldworkers who monitor and record the fortunes of birds of prey across Northern Ireland.
  • Royal Society for Protection of Birds

    Northern Ireland is home to all sorts of wonderful wildlife, from lolloping Irish hares to soaring red kites, not to mention stunning scenery as far as the eye can see. With RSPB NI reserves dotted across the country, it’s never been easier to get close to nature right on your doorstep.
  • Ulster Wildlife

    Bring Nature Back
  • Wildfowl and Wetland Trust

    Centre at Castle Espie in Strangford Lough. 78 Ballydrain Road, Comber, Co Down. Phone (028) 9187 4146 or (028) 9187 2517
Sightings, News & Forums
  • nibirds

    News & Sightings
    Report sightings to: Email, Text: 07973 403 146 or 07870 863 782 or Twitter: @nibirds See localbird pics at:
Trip Reports
  • 2008 [05 May] - Mark Hows

    Arriving in a dull and dreary Dublin at 6am, at least we avoided the rush hour and made good progress north, a quick food stop in Newry…
Other Links
  • Birdwatching in Northern Ireland

    EVERY VISITOR becomes a birdwatcher in Northern Ireland. The presence of a huge variety of bird species, in large numbers, in such a small area, soon becomes delightfully apparent. This is why ornithologists from all over the world are flocking here in greater numbers than ever
  • Wild Bird Food Shop Northern Ireland

    Welcome to the online Home of Wild Bird Food Shop Northern Ireland. We are part of Temple Garden and Farm Shop, at the Temple crossroads,Between Lisburn to Saintfield and Carryduff to Ballynahinch,just 10 mins from Belfast.
  • Margaret Adamson - Birding For Pleasure

    Birds, Nature, Photography in UK and other countries I have visited - I have taken up bird watching later in life however I became very enthusiastic from the beginning and was greatly encouraged by other bird watchers. For the past 5 years I have led a bird group in my town and have become a guest speaker on cruise ships talking about Birds around the world…
  • NI Birds

    A Blog on rare and scarce birds in Northern Ireland that is updated on a daily basis.

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