Birds at The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are home to one of the major colonies of cliff nesting seabirds in Ireland. Over 30,000 pairs of seabirds can be found here during the nesting season from April to July and it is possible to view over 20 species of birds in the area.

Birds at the Cliffs of Moher

The area was designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Birds under the EU Birds Directive in 1986 and as a Refuge for Fauna in 1988 with internationally important numbers of both Guillemot & Razorbill and nationally significant numbers of Puffin, Kittiwake and Fulmar. Endangered bird species like Choughs can also be found here on a year round basis. Included within the designated SPA site are the cliffs, the cliff-top maritime grassland and heath, and a 200 metre zone of open water, directly in front of the cliffs to protect part of the birds’ feeding area. The designation covers 200 hectares and highlights the area’s importance for wildlife.

While there are many seabird colonies on the offshore islands around Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher are home to the largest colony on the mainland. Chough, Peregrine Falcon, Fulmar and Ravens can be seen all year round. From late February a variety of seabirds such as Guillemot, Razorbill, great black backed Gulls and shag begin to return to the Cliffs of Moher from their wintering grounds to prepare for the nesting season. The Atlantic Puffin, a real favourite, arrives around the end of March. Gannets do not nest at the Cliffs of Moher but can be seen fishing here having flown long distances to do so.

During the nesting season bird viewing is possible from any of the cliff side pathways and viewing areas but the raised viewing platform on the south side of the visitor centre provides fantastic views of Goat Island with often hundreds of Puffins to be seen on its grassy slopes. From here you can also see the Great Stack with nesting Kittiwake, Guillemot and Razorbill on various levels and Shag and Cormorant frequently seen sunning themselves at the base. As most birds nest on the cliff face or the grassy slopes on the lower sections of the cliff it is not possible to approach the seabirds closely but coin operated telescopes are available along the pathways. We recommend you bring a pair of binoculars to help with your viewing. Our Cliffs of Moher Rangers can tell you more about the birds you can see on the day of your visit – don’t hesitate to ask them for pointers. Around the visitor centre look out for Pied Wagtails, Rooks, Swallows and Ravens.

Bird counts have been conducted at the Cliffs of Moher by Rangers and Birdwatch Ireland volunteers over the years with the most recent taking place in 2011.

Some birds you might see while you’re here

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Puffin

Puffin populations at the Cliffs of Moher are increasing in contrast with declining numbers at many other European colonies with over 7,000 recorded in 2011. The Cliffs of Moher puffin, a member of the Auk family, winters at sea and only returns to shore for the nesting season from late May to mid July. Atlantic Puffins nest in colonies on the grassy slopes on Goat Island and at the lower sections of the Cliffs in burrows or under boulders on the cliff side. May & June are the best months to view them when one parent remains near the nest guarding the chick while the other fishes for sand eels.

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Guillemot

The Guillemot is one of the most numerous birds in the great ‘seabird cities’. It comes to land only to nest and spending the rest of its life at sea where it is vulnerable to oil spills. Dark brown and white, not as black as the similar Razorbill, it has a ‘bridled’ form with a white ring round the eye and stripe behind it.

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Razorbill

Also a member of the Auk family and very similar in appearance to the Guillemot, the razorbill is slightly smaller with black rather than brown upper parts. The distinctive heavy bill that gives the Razorbill its name is useful for collecting sand eels. Both Guillemot and Razorbill can be seen nesting on the lower sections of the Great Stack. 5,497 were recorded in the bird count in 2011.

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Kittiwake

Kittiwakes are small Gulls with grey plumage on top and white below with black wing tips. Adult birds have a yellow bill and dark legs and a white head in summer while in winter they sport a dark patch behind the eye. Kittiwake colonies are very noisy and you may be mistaken on approach for thinking you are approaching a schoolyard during break time. Kittiwakes can be seen in messy nests on the upper sections of the Great Stack as well as along the cliff ledges. 4,563 were recorded in 2011.

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Fulmar

Although Gull-like the Fulmar is related to the Albatrosses. First nesting in Ireland in the early 20th century fulmar populations have thrived. The Fulmar is one of the only seabird species that can been seen all year round at the Cliffs of Moher. The tubes above the Fulmar’s bill is used to spray foul smelling oil at attackers. Fulmar can often be seen riding the thermals and updrafts over the cliffs and they can be identified by their stiff winged flight. 4,257 were recorded in 2011.

Chough

Chough

A member of the Crow family the chough it has a red bill and legs and also has more prominently “fingered” flight-feathers than other crows which makes for a distinctive silhouette in the air where they are seen in their swooping aerobatic flight all year round. There are a number of pairs of Chough nesting along the length of the Cliffs of Moher and at times flocks of up to eighteen birds have been seen at once.

Peregrine

Peregrine

Reputed to be the fastest creature on the planet the Peregrine Falcon can reach speeds of up to 240km/hour (150mph). A pair of Peregrines nest near O’Brien’s Tower and preys mainly on other birds. Peregrines are territorial and aerial battles with other birds can be viewed from the main viewing areas if you are lucky. They have a short hooked bill with a heavy powerfully built body and razor sharp claws. The female is larger than the male.