As sprays and pesticides become more widely used, a disturbing feature is the side effect this has on bird life. In one generation the corncrake has become almost extinct and a number of other birds have been put on the protected list. Because West Donegal is free from intensive farming many of these protected birds have managed to survive quite well. Below we offer a brief description of a number of these protected and relatively rare birds which you can see at Donegal Thatched Cottages on Cruit Island. To help you identify them we suggest you bring a book on Irish birds. You will also, of course, see many other less rare birds, particularly various waders and dozens of shags perched on outlying rocks.
Chough : Choughs are quite rare, although a flock of up to twenty choughs can regularly be seen on Cruit Island. They are black in colour, smaller than a crow, bigger than a blackbird and have a distinctive red beak and claws. You will see them feeding on short grassy areas around Cruit or flying in a flock. They make a grunting sound, though not as deep as a raven. Visible all year round.
Cuckoo : Cuckoos were once quite common in the Irish countryside but are now rarely heard or seen. Every year on Cruit you can hear the distinctive staccato “kuk-ku” of this migratory bird from April to July. However, your ear must be well tuned and you must be alert……..otherwise you will miss it .If you are really alert you may also see them calling to one another from their perch on the telephone wires. Brown birds, about the size of a blackbird.
Lark : Like the cuckoo the warbling of the skylark is a sound that once filled the Irish countryside but is now only heard in sandy dunes and seaside areas. The wonderful singing of this small bird can be heard all over Cruit Island from April to September, especially in good weather. Light brown in colour, you will see him as he soars higher and higher while filling the air with his thrilling music.
Corncrake : It is now several years since I last heard the hoarse “craking” sound of the corncrake on Cruit Island. Hopefully he will return. If, however, you are lucky enough to manage a boat trip to Owey Island , off-shore from Cruit, you will certainly hear the corncrake in the summer months. You may even see him running through the long grass. This fine bird is almost extinct in Ireland.
Snipe : Once seen and heard in poorer wetlands all over Ireland, a combination of shooting and farming methods has ensured that this game bird is becoming increasingly rare. You are more likely to find him in the interior areas of Cruit Island rather than the coastal areas. If you rise him you will see how he flies in a swift zig-zag pattern to avoid being shot. Listen in the still twilight and you may hear a strange “bleating” sound filling the air. This is the male snipe drumming his tail feathers together as he zooms back and forth. This is why he is called “meigilin an aeir”in Irish………..the little goat of the air.
Raven : Ravens are a larger form of the household crow and are found in coastal cliffs including the cliffs around Cruit Island. They are quite different from the chough in that they are much bigger and have black beaks and black claws. Their grunting sound is also deeper and stronger.
Peregrine Falcon : This truly magnificent bird of prey nests on the cliffs of Owey Island and can occasionally be seen soaring inland over Cruit Island. You will not mistake him for the sparrow hawk or the kestral as his wing-span is much wider and his general movements more majestic. If you listen you may hear his high-pitched “kee, kee”. To spot him is a special privilege.