Cabragh is a special place for birds. In winter, for example, the area hosts up to a thousand ducks and wading birds. Wherever so many birds congregate, predators are never far away. It is one of the rules of ecology that the number of prey dictates the number of predators, and not the other way around.
A visit to the Cabragh Wetlands at almost any time of year will see a hawk. The Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) is a large brown bird of prey — vital statistics are; length, about 0.55m, wingspan 1.3-1.5m, weight 500g-1.4kg. The upperparts are dark brown and the belly is whitish.
However, the hawks show a wide variety of markings or bars on the chest and belly. Some birds are very pale while others are boldly streaked with brown. The underside of the wing has a white patch near the elbow contrasting with the black tips of the primaries. The talons (legs) and cere (part of the beak) are bright yellow.
In the winter, if you see all the ducks and waders flying together in the air, there is likely a peregrine falcon in the area. The Peregrine is our biggest hawk and is built for power and speed. The bird is steel gray on the back, has bars on the chest, and has a black hood and mustache. In flight, it has a deep chest with pointed wings and a fairly short tail. The female is bigger than the male. It was the favorite species of falconers. It builds its nest or eagle’s nest on coastal cliffs or on inland rocks or in quarries.
If you see a little hawk hovering over a rough meadow, it’s a kestrel. It is the only bird of prey in Ireland that hunts by soaring in the air, foraging for food in the ground.
The male has a gray head and a gray tail and has a rich brown color on the back. The female has no gray on the head and tail, and is rusty in color with dark markings.
During the spring migration, a Marsh Harrier often presents itself in Cabragh. These birds are very rare breeders in Ireland, but birds from Great Britain and the mainland occasionally roam. These are larger than our Northern Harrier and we usually see the juvenile type, which is all dark brown with a creamy patch on the head.
If you see a little hawk flying low and fast, it’s a hawk. They are lurking predators and everything from wren to wood pigeon is on the menu. These are present in Cabragh throughout the year.
At night, the owls have the countryside to themselves. There are a couple of resident bell owls in Cabragh. They nest in a birdhouse. There are also short-eared owls in the area. These birds nest in trees, often using an old crow’s nest.
There is something exciting about birds of prey.
Maybe they appeal to our predatory instincts. In the past, they were persecuted by the game wardens of the large estates. Nowadays people are more educated and realize that these birds are an important part of the ecosystem as top predators.
The Tipperary Star – supporting the protection of our local environment in the Cabragh wetlands