County Antrim

Eider Somateria mollissima ©Ian Dickey Website

The ceremonial County Antrim is one of six counties that form Northern Ireland. Adjoined to the northeast shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of c.3,000 K² (1,200 square miles) and has a population of c.650,000, with a density of 217 people per square kilometer. It is also one of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland, as well as part of the historic province of Ulster.

The Glens of Antrim offer isolated rugged landscapes and the world-famous Giant’s Causeway is a unique landscape and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bushmills produces whiskey, and Portrush is a popular seaside resort and night-life area. The majority of Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, is in County Antrim, with the remainder being in County Down. A large portion of Antrim is hilly, especially in the east, where the highest elevations are attained. The range runs north and south, and the highest point is Trostan at 1,800 feet. The inland slope is gradual, but on the northern shore the range terminates in abrupt and almost perpendicular declivities, and here, consequently, some of the finest coast scenery in the world is found, widely differing, with its unbroken lines of cliffs, from the indented coast-line of the west. The most remarkable cliffs are those formed of perpendicular basaltic columns, extending for many miles, and most strikingly displayed in Fair Head and the celebrated Giant’s Causeway.

Birding County Antrim

The only island of size is the L-shaped Rathlin Island, off Ballycastle and the last Choughs in Northern Ireland have a tenuous hold here. The valleys of the Bann and Lagan, with the intervening shores of Lough Neagh, form the fertile lowlands. These two rivers, both rising in County Down, are the only ones of importance. The latter flows to Belfast Lough, the former drains Lough Neagh, which is fed by a number of smaller streams. At the outflow of the river lies Lough Beg, the ‘Small Lake’, about 15 feet lower than Lough Neagh.

The uplands have been much degraded by peat cutting and overgrazing, but are still amongst the main haunts of Hen Harriers and Merlins, although they have moved from the open moorland into conifer plantations. The Giant’s Causeway area is good for Raven, Buzzard and Peregrine. Chough are present in small numbers and Grasshopper Warbler a distinct possibility in summer; seabirds are abundant.

Important seabird colonies are nearly the exclusive domain of this county, and it also includes one of the best places to observe seabird migration. Ramore Head is particularly notable for Autumn passage of petrels, skuas, shearwaters and scarce gulls where the sea-watching is best in strong northwesterly winds in September. Nevertheless, all year-round interest with auks, terns and divers. Late autumn is best for geese, swans, waders and passerines. Fair Head is best for Twite and Snow Buntings in winter.

Top Sites
  • Capanagh

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    Upland birds including Red Grouse and Whinchat.
  • Craigagh Wood

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    Deciduous woodland (mainly planted Beech) close to the road from Cushendun to Ballycastle. Wood Warblers are the main attraction, a very local bird in Northern Ireland. From there it is easy to explore the whole of Glendun as it runs over the Antrim plateau, checking for Hen Harriers etc on the way.
  • Larne Lough

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    Tern colonies at Swan Island and Blue Circle Island (the latter an artificial creation by the cement company of the same name) Both lie just south of Glynn off the main road, and can be scoped distantly from the car park at J435987. As well as Common and Arctic, this is the only place to see Roseate. Another way is to go to the very end of Island Magee opposite Larne harbour and watch the terns as they fly out of Larne Lough. Most of the waders are best viewed from Ballycarry Bridge at the south end of the Lough (J465645).
  • Macedon Point, Belfast Lough

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    A taste of what can be seen along the north shoreline of Belfast Lough. It is easy to get to from Belfast by taking the M2 and then M5 to the roundabout at Hazelbank Park (J351812). Turn right into Park and walk the short distance down to the shoreline. This is the main wintering area for over 2,000 Great Crested Grebes, but most of the other sea ducks of the Lough are present as well in winter, with Velvet Scoter, Slavonian Grebe etc distinctly possible.
  • Portmore Lough RSPB Reserve

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    A large reed-fringed lake close to the shore of Lough Neagh, which can be viewed from a hide. Good numbers of wildfowl, with Reed Warbler and Marsh Harrier a possibility. Contact RSPB Northern Ireland for details.
  • Ramore Head

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    Close to the centre of Portrush, so local accommodation is plentiful. The best seawatching point on the north coast, and northwest gales in autumn are nearly essential. Skuas, Leach's Petrels and sometimes large shearwaters are all part of the fare.
  • West Light (Bull Point); Rathlin Island

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    Caledonian MacBryne run the ferry from Ballycastle. You can check with them at (028) 2076 9299 about times as winter and summer sailings are different, and places can be limited. RSPB have a viewing station at the West Light with telescopes for public use (prepare to be recruited). Contact RSPB in Belfast for details and local contacts.The main attraction of Rathlin is the seabird colony at the West Light. Arrange transport out if possible as the distance is three to four miles, and it is more pleasant to walk back to the harbour at Church Bay. Buzzards are to be seen in the air nearly all the time, and Peregrines nest on the cliffs. Rathlin is the only place in Northern Ireland where Corncrakes have bred recently. Golden Eagles drift over from Scotland every year, but are very elusive (speak to any Irish birder). Other notable sightings have been Booted Eagle, Gyrfalcon, King Eider and Rustic Bunting
  • George Gordon

County Recorder
Useful Reading

  • 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
Museums & Universities
  • World of Owls

    Owls from all over the world
  • Antrim & Args Ringing Group

    M McNeely, 17 Lower Quilly Road, Dromore, BT25 1NL
  • RSPB Antrim Local Group

    The group's aim is to support actively the work of the RSPB in the local community and to involve RSPB members and the wider public in the Society's conservation, public affairs, education, fundraising and other activities. We have regular monthly indoor meetings throughout the year and have regular day-trips for bird watching.
  • RSPB Lisburn Local Group

    The group's aim is to support actively the work of the RSPB in the local community and to involve RSPB members and the wider public in the Society's conservation, public affairs, education, fundraising and other activities. We have regular monthly indoor meetings locally throughout the year and have occasional day-trips to local nature reserves.

Abbreviations Key

  • *Nature Reserves in County Antrim

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    There are many nature reserves on Forest Service land in County Antrim.
  • *Ulster Wildlife Nature Reserves

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    Find a nature reserve
  • LNR Breen Oakwood

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    The woods are a haven for wildlife including a magnitude of birds like tits and treecreepers, while other visitors may be able to spot a sparrowhawk or buzzard hunting amongst the trees. Red squirrels can also be found skirting the oakwood and in the summer the boggy pools and damp gullies are idyllic for newts and dragonflies.
  • LNR Straidkilly

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    This Ulster Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve is situated off the Straidkilly Road, an inland route between Glenarm and Carnlough on the hill slope above the Coast Road. Informal paths provide a circular walk around the site, though the ground is uneven and care is required.
  • NIEA Rathlin Kebble Nature Reserve

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    At the western end of Rathlin Island, sheer cliffs rise more than 100 metres above raised beaches of rounded cobbles, while towering stacks of rock stand guard just off the shore.
  • RSPB Belfast Lough

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    The mudflats are important feeding areas for a variety of wading birds and wildfowl. At high tide, flocks of wading birds, such as redshanks, oystercatchers and black-tailed godwits, can be seen from the hide and viewing points…
  • RSPB Montiaghs Moss

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    Montiaghs Moss is a lowland peatland in County Antrim, consisting of a raised bog that provides a mosaic of peat ramparts, trenches, pools and drains interspersed with grassland, trees and hedgerows. Thanks to the conservation work, the site has become a stronghold for notable species including the Marsh Fritillary butterflies, Irish Damselflies, large Red Damselflies, Green Hairstreak butterflies, Red-tipped Clearwing moths, Kestrels[CC8] , and Cuckoos.
  • RSPB Portmore Lough

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    This lowland, wet-grassland reserve boasts an open view across the Lough that takes in the wider landscape. It's a family-friendly, quiet retreat with seasonal wildlife spectacles - butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies in summer; greylag geese, whooper swans and thousands of ducks in winter.
  • RSPB Rathlin Island

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    RSPB Rathlin Island, Ballycastle BT54 6SB - Whilst hugely important for breeding seabirds, including puffin, guillemot, kittiwake, razorbill and fulmar, Rathlin Island is also home to Northern Ireland's only pair of breeding chough and more recently corncrake. Visitors can enjoy the West Light Seabird Centre and a cliff-top, off-road walking trail at nearby Roonivoolin.
  • RSPB Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre

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    Just six miles off County Antrim's north coast, Rathlin Island is a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Before you step ashore, look out for gannets, gulls and dolphins during the ferry crossing from Ballycastle. There are regular ferry crossings through the season but make sure to book in advance.
  • SSSI Antrim Glens and Causeway Coast

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    …It is extremely popular with birdwatchers, geologists, botanists, divers, sea-anglers and anyone with a love of wild and rugged scenery…
Sightings, News & Forums
  • nibirds

    News & Sightings
    This site is run by a voluntary group of birders documenting and recording information about the birds and wildlife of Northern Ireland. We provide information on rarities and interesting sightings. Report sightings to: Email, Text: 07973 403 146 or 07870 863 782 or Twitter: @nibirds See localbird pics at:
Places to Stay
  • Maddybenny Farm

    Maddybenny Farm (meaning sanctified or holy post) dates from the 1600s, when it was built as a plantation house on lands belonging to the Earl of Antrim. The first Presbyterian Minister, Rev. Gabriel Cornwall, lived here. The house is approached up a long track and stands in a wonderful, rural position. It is part of a big complex of buildings: the farm, stables and riding school, and 6 self-catering cottages
Other Links
  • Birdwatching County Antrim

    List of sites. E.g.
  • The Birds of Binevenagh

    PDF Brochure
    A guide to the wild birds of Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Neal Warnock

    Twitter Website
    Nature Conservation | Wildlife Photography | Also see: Patch Birding Ireland

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