Ireland's Biodiversity Awareness Campaign

Migratory Bird Species

Ireland is a key refuge and a hub for Arctic and European migratory birds. The autumn migration with its passage of millions of birds is an amazing event in the calendar of the natural world. Some birds will travel huge distances, often encountering incredible challenges, as they make their way from their breeding areas to their wintering grounds.

At the moment summer breeding birds that haven’t already departed are feeding up and preparing to leave on their southward journeys. The exodus of Swallows and Swifts, common summer visitors, is a key marker for the start of the cold season. These birds move southwards to Africa for the winter in search of warmer weather. 

Many geese, ducks, swans, and wading birds that inhabit regions in and around the Artic start to move southwards as the winter sets in. Ireland’s mild winter weather means that wetlands and mudflats never freeze over and provide plenty of water and food for birds.

Some winter migrants to Ireland such as the ruff and the whimbrel are passing migrants, and Ireland is an important fuelling stop for them on their journey further south. Others, such as the Greenland white fronted goose, the whooper swan and the red-tailed godwit stay in Ireland for the duration of the winter, until March or April. The Greenland white fronted goose, which is considered the ‘Goose of Ireland’, is found at this time in many of Ireland’s bogs, wet callow lands and agricultural lands. Over 7,000 of these birds spend the winter in the Wexford Slobs. whooper swans, which breed in Iceland, arrive in large numbers in October to the Northern loughs of Ireland. These birds travel from Iceland to Ireland, across 1,000 km of sea, in just 7 hours. It would be difficult for these birds to go unnoticed due to the their noisy wing flapping and vigorous ‘whoop-a’ calling and neck pumping!

Table illustrating common migrants to Ireland with times of arrival & departure and where they can be seen in Ireland

In Migrants Arrival Departure Can be found Where?
Greenland White Fronted Goose September from Greenland    April  Wetlands, stubble fields
Whooper Swan  October from Iceland   April  Open Water, wetlands
Canada Goose   October from Canada April  Ponds and Loughs, wetlands
Fieldfare  October from Russia, Scandinavia  April  Open fields, common around the midlands
Redwing   October Northern Europe and Iceland   April Open fields and hedgerows, small woodlands
 Kittiwake    March from Greenland and many other countries October  Along the coast nesting on cliff faces, harbours
April from Tropical Africa   August  Woodlands, reed beds and bog lands
Corncrake   April from southern Africa  September Shannon Callows, Donegal and Mayo

 Check out here for more information on Migration journeys 

Migrants at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve

The Wexford Wildfowl Reserve, located on the North Slob right beside Wexford harbour, is by its very structure and location, a natural haven for birds.  Situated in the south-east of Ireland, it offers one of the closest crossing points to Britain and Europe for birds migrating into or out of Ireland. The Reserve is therefore a great place to observe the autumn migrant flux. The ponds around the Visitor centre have been deliberately lowered to encourage and coax passage wading birds to drop in and feed in the invertebrate rich exposed mud.

At this time of year there is always a chance of seeing rare or uncommon birds. Bad weather can sometimes knock birds (often juveniles making their first journey) way off their normal migration route or flyway. This is an especially exciting time of year for birdwatchers and because birds are so mobile and can cover huge distances, you never know what you might encounter.

For more information on Migratory Birds - check out the Birdwatch Ireland website


Ospreys can be found at the reserve. This spectacular hunter (there are around 100 breeding pairs in Britain-most in Scotland) will soon move en route through France and Iberia and onwards to West Africa. Osprey’s are powerful fliers needing little assistance from thermals and other upcurrents.

Other birds around the Reserve at this time of year include; redshank, spotted redshank, greenshank, knot, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, snipe, curlew, teal, wigeon, marsh harrier and hen harrier.

©2007 Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government