Ireland’s first breeding cranes in three centuries located in midlands

Ireland's first breeding pair of common cranes in three centuries were recently located on a bog in Offaly.

There were two previous breeding attempts in 2019 and 2020 by cranes in Offaly which were unsuccessful.

Biodiversity Officer with Offaly County Council Ricky Whelan declared it “great news” that common cranes have returned to Offaly after 300 years. It's great for biodiversity, and it shows that bog rewetting is working. However, he told the Offaly Independent that he hasn't seen the breeding pair on the Offaly bog or visited the site.

Mr Whelan explained that the location of the site is being kept confidential so that people don't disturb the birds, trying to get a look at them as once disturbed the cranes will abandon their nest.

“You don't want to disrupt the only breeding pair in the country, it would be an absolute nightmare,” stated the Biodiversity Officer.

“There's also an inkling that there's probably a second or even third pair somewhere in the general Midland region.”

Mr Whelan said that no one can figure out exactly where they're breeding and that there could be more birds nesting elsewhere.

The common cranes went extinct in Ireland over 300 years ago and Mr Whelan said that at one point they were the third most popular pet in Ireland in medieval times. “Through hunting and the draining of wetlands they sort of vanished over time.” 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 1600-1700.

A reintroduction programme was implemented in the past two decades which resulted in an increase of common cranes being found in the UK. Mr Whelan said that there is now a breeding population of 100 breeding pairs of common cranes in Britain and that as the number increased there, some pairs migrated to Ireland as it's a suitable habitat for them.

“Pairs of common cranes usually take several years to successfully fledge chicks”, said Lead Ecologist at Bord na Móna, Mark McCorry. “Crane nests float amongst emergent wetland vegetation such as reeds. It is obvious, then, as wetlands disappeared, then so would they. But thanks to the ongoing work by Bord na Móna, we are in with a chance once again of seeing these majestic birds breed and thrive in Ireland.”

Bord na Móna has already rehabilitated nearly 20,000 hectares of the bogs, resulting in the return of indigenous flora and fauna to vast tracts of the Irish countryside.