Russian Wildfires Drive Bird Species West To Ireland

A Pallid Harrier pictured at Ballyvergan Marsh, just outside Youghal in Cork, on 24 April 2011. This was the first recorded sighting of the bird on Irish shores. Photograph John Murphy.

Three successive summers of devastating wildfires across central and eastern Russia have lead to the displacement of native bird species, some of which have been spotted as far west as Ireland. 

That is according to the Clare Branch of Birdwatch Ireland which has confirmed the fourth recorded sighting of the Pallid Harrier (Circus Macrourus) on Irish shores in just over a year.

The bird was photographed in Moyasta, County Clare, on Sunday (12 August 2012). Only three previous sightings of the bird have been confirmed on Irish shores, the first being near Youghal in April 2011 with two more separate sightings in Cork and Galway this year.

The bird is categorised as “Near Threatened” due to rapidly steep population decreases globally, and breeds primarily in the steppes of Asiatic Russia, Kazakhstan and north-west China.

John Murphy, Chairperson of the Clare Branch of Birdwatch Ireland believes the increased number of sightings of the bird throughout Western Europe is primarily driven by the displacement of the species by widespread forest and gorse fires across large areas of Russia.

H explained: “During the past 12 to 18 months, the Pallid Harrier has been found breeding in Finland, Portugal, Spain and France, which are located well beyond the species’ primary breeding grounds. The first ever recorded sighting of the bird in Ireland was in 2011 and since then we have had three more, the most recent occurring in West Clare at the weekend.”

“Internationally, the Pallid Harrier is primarily threatened by the destruction and degradation of steppe grasslands through conversion to arable agriculture and the burning of vegetation. In recent years, massive wildfires exacerbated by crippling drought have destroyed millions of hectares of steppe and forest-steppe, which are the primary breeding grounds for the bird. Last weekend, for example, Russian authorities reported that wildfires were affecting up to 12 million hectares of Siberian forestry. This has led to the displacement of many native bird species and has resulted in the increase number of sightings of the Pallid Harrier across Western Europe, including Ireland,” he added.

The fires that have been plaguing Russia for months now have causing smoke to drift across the Pacific Ocean towards North America. The image was captured on August 09, 2012 at 21:50 UTC (8:50 am EDT). Images are generated at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Meanwhile, Mr. Murphy has reminded bird watching enthusiasts that the month of August is the best time of year to spot non-native bird species visiting Irish shores as they embark on their southward migration to the Southern Hemisphere for the winter period.

On Sunday 19 August from 10am to 12pm, the Clare Branch of Birdwatch Ireland is inviting members of the public to the Bridges of Ross on the Loop Head Peninsula to view migrating birds. Mr. Murphy described the West Clare location as one of the most premier bird watching points in Western Europe.

He continued: “This Sunday, we will be helping members of the public to identify some of the hundreds of thousands of birds that migrate southwards toward the southern Atlantic Ocean from the Northern Hemisphere each year. Many of the birds that can be seen from the Bridges of Ross in County Clare have spent the summer months breeding as far north as Iceland and Svalbard. They include Shearwaters, Skuas, Petrels, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Gannets and Puffins. The event is free and everyone is welcome to come along.”

The event forms part of Clare Heritage Week 2012, which will feature 47 separate events across Clare from 18th to 26th August. For more details of events taking place throughout County Clare visit or