Common crane chicks born in Ireland for first time in 300 years

Baby birds have not been spotted recently and may not have survived, Bord na Móna says

Cranes flying over Bord na Móna rewetted peatlands Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Cranes flying over Bord na Móna rewetted peatlands Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Common cranes that set up home on a rewetted peatland earlier this year have successfully hatched two baby chicks – the first recorded birth of crane chicks in Ireland in over 300 years.

Bord na Móna confirmed the details on Monday. The chicks hatched in May at a secret location in the midlands. It was not identified to reduce the risk of the birds being disturbed by human activity.

Pairs of common cranes usually take several years to successfully fledge chicks, and two previous breeding attempts in 2019 and 2020 were unsuccessful, so there was much rejoicing when the chicks hatched.

Regrettably, one chick disappeared shortly after it was first seen, which is not unusual in cranes, and the second chick has not been seen since late June, suggesting it may have gone missing or been caught by a predator, Bord na Móna ecologists confirmed.

The birds are elusive by nature, and experts believe there is still a chance the chick may have survived and fledged. However, it is thought more likely a predator such as a fox may have carried off the young bird, or that it died for some other reason.

“We are absolutely delighted that the cranes hatched two young this year. Unfortunately, on this occasion it looks like nature took its course, and the young may not have survived,” said lead ecologist Mark McCorry.

“Still it shows that we are creating the right conditions in our rewetted peatlands for these magnificent creatures to thrive. This is the third year that the cranes have nested here and the first time they have produced chicks so there is every chance they will return next year with hopefully a more successful outcome,” he added.

Mr McCorry noted, however, there may be more than one pair of cranes on the rewetted peatlands. “We’re getting reports of sightings in other areas which lead us to believe that there may be more than one pair of cranes on our peatlands.”

“If that is the case, it is absolutely fantastic and shows what we can achieve when we enhance and protect our natural habitats and that common cranes have a real chance of re-establishing as an iconic wetland bird in Ireland.” he believed.

Though cranes have been extinct in Ireland since the 1700s, there have been increased sightings of them in Irish skies in recent years during migration and over-wintering. This may be due to conservation works in the UK that has seen numbers of the birds there rise from zero in the 1970s to over 200 today – as well as increases in its European population.

The crane is deeply connected to the culture and history of Ireland. They have been central to folklore tales such as Fionn mac Cumhaill, the druids, St Colmcille, and the Book of Kells. Their Gaelic name, corr, can be founded in hundreds of place names, such as the Curragh in Kildare which means “crane meadow”.

They were even kept as pets, and records show they were the third-most popular pet in medieval times. Unfortunately, they were also a popular food item for people at the time, and their ease of capture by foxes and the draining of wetlands resulted in their demise some time between 1600 and 1700.

Bord na Móna is ending peat extraction on its bogs and becoming a “climate solutions company”, using its land for renewable energy generation, carbon storage – by rewetting boglands – and recycling to support environmental objectives.

It has already rehabilitated nearly 20,000 hectares of these bogs, resulting in the return of indigenous flora and fauna to the countryside. Last year the company also announced 33,000 hectares is to be rehabilitated as part of its Peatlands Climate Action Scheme that will operate with €108 million in Government funding and €18 million from Bord na Móna.

This scheme will lead to even greater biodiversity, health and environmental benefits, and more wetland habitat for this majestic species, it said.