The Birds of Cork Harbour


An Overview


As one of the finest natural Harbours in the world, Cork Harbour has shaped the history and lives of the people of Cork City and surrounding towns and villages such as Blackrock, Cobh, Monkstown, Passage West, Whitegate and Aghada, amongst others. The topography of the landscape is gently undulating, with a mixed coastline consisting of built infrastructure, shallow cliffs, intertidal mudflats, reedbeds, shingle and rocky foreshores, which are exposed by the tide.  The bathymetry of the Harbour reflects the morphology of the coastline, with gentle slopes dropping to a depth of 28m near the mouth of the harbour (11m in the channel which is maintained at that depth for navigation). 


Figure 1 Cork Harbour


Figure 2 shows a 3-dimensional overview with the coastline marked in black.


Figure 2 - 3-d Harbour. Depths range from over –25 m at the Harbour entrance to +170m near the airport. All the areas in Blue are close to sea level.

For general information on Cork Harbour click on the link ‘About Cork Harbour’ on the left, or click HERE


Protected areas in the Harbour


Many of the areas where waders are found in the Harbour are protected under EU legislation. Special Protected Areas (those designated under the Birds Directive) account for 4.3% of the area of the Harbour (around 1400ha)


Special Areas of Conservation (designated under the Habitats Directive) and Natural Heritage Areas cover another 4100 Ha (although many of these areas overlap with each other).


Figures 3-5 show the protected areas within the Harbour.


Figure 3 –Natural Heritage Areas


Figure 4 –Special Areas of Conservation


Figure 5– Special Protected Areas


Cork Harbour also contains a RAMSAR site (The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, i.e. to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognizing the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value). The site is located in the north east of Cork Harbour close to Rostellan/Saleen.

The site is divided into three areas, Rostellan Lough, Aghada Shore and Poulnabibe Inlet (see Figure 6). Geologically, Cork Harbour consists of several limestone basins separated, from the sea and from each other, by ridges of old red sandstone. Rostellan Lough differs from the rest of Cork Harbour because it is impounded and is no longer tidal.


Figure 6.  Rostellan Lough, Aghada Shore and Poulnabibe Inlet



The Birds



Figure 7 – The main areas where birds are counted within the Harbour (I-Webs counting sites).


Dedicated bird counts have been ongoing in Cork Harbour since 1978. Figure 7 shows the main count locations. Over the years, counting methods, locations and the counters themselves have changed. Since 1995 the system has become standardised with Birdwatch Ireland I-WeBS methods.


In recent years there has been a loss of feeding grounds within the Harbour. Parts of the Harbour have been reclaimed and more areas are under major threat of reclamation in the future (Figure 8).


Figure 8 – Habitat loss (in black) within the Harbour in recent years.



Internationally Important Species


There are two internationally important species found in Cork Harbour. They are the Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) and the Redshank (Tringa tetanus).


Black-tailed Godwit   Limosa limosa



The Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa, is a large shorebird. It is a relatively long-legged member of the godwit genus.


Adults have blue-grey legs and a very long straight bill with a slight upward curve and pink at the base. The neck, breast and belly are brick red in breeding plumage, off white in winter. The back is mottled grey.


Their breeding habitat is temperate wetlands in Europe and Asia on open grassland. They nest on the ground, usually in short vegetation, laying 3-6 eggs.


They migrate in flocks to western Europe, Africa, south Asia and Australia. Interestingly, although this species occurs in Ireland and Great Britain all year round, they are not the same birds. The breeding birds depart in autumn, but are replaced in winter by the larger Icelandic race, L. l. islandica. These birds occasionally appear in the Aleutian Islands and, rarely, on the Atlantic coast of North America.


These birds forage by probing on mudflats or in marshes. In short vegetation, they may pick up insects by sight. They mainly eat insects and crustaceans, but also eat parts of aquatic plants. They are much more likely to be found on freshwater than the coastal Bar-tailed Godwit.


For more information see Black-tailed Godwit in the ‘Common Bird’ Section at the top of the web page


Redshank  Tringa tetanus



The Common Redshank or Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae, the typical waders. This is a widespread breeding bird across Europe and northern Asia. It is a migratory species, wintering on coasts around the Mediterranean, in south Asia, and on the Atlantic coast of Europe from Great Britain southwards.


It is replaced in the Arctic by the closely related Spotted Redshank, which has a longer bill and legs, and is black in breeding plumage, and very pale in winter.


Redshanks have red legs and bill, and show white up the back and on the wings in flight. They are brown, becoming somewhat lighter-toned in winter.


Redshanks will nest in any wetland, from damp meadows to saltmarsh, often at high densities. They lay 3-5 eggs. These are wary and noisy birds which will alert everything else with their loud piping call. Like most waders, they feed on small invertebrates.


For more information see ‘Redshank’ in the ‘Common Bird’ Section at the top of the web page


For more information on bird monitoring read the Waterbird monitoring of Cork Harbour: 1994/95-2002/03 by Tom Gittings