Ireland is known as the “Emerald Isle” due to the lush green landscape covering most of the country. This is the perfect habitat for hundreds of bird species. Birdwatchers flock to Ballycroy National Park to see a rare peregrine falcon. The park also has whooper swans, dippers, woodcocks, and sandpipers. Because the country is an island, there are plenty of shorebirds, like herring gulls, plovers, and sandpipers. With a wide range of birds to choose from, how does a nation pick one as their national bird? Read on to find out all about the lapwing, the national bird of Ireland!
What is the National Bird of Ireland?
The national bird of Ireland is the lapwing, a shorebird in the plover family with a distinctive crest of feathers. With an average size of about 10-12 inches, lapwings are larger than piping plovers but not nearly as big as gulls. Their back and wings are a beautiful greenish color, and they have a white belly and black bib. Lapwings also have a black crown and a short black beak. They are sometimes called a “peewit”, an imitation of their calls. The lapwing gets its name from the slow-motion-like movement of their wings. When they fly, their wings create the illusion of slow movement.
Where do Lapwings Live?
Lapwings live in most of Ireland as well as the UK, in both resident and wintering populations. In Ireland, the northern half of the country hosts resident lapwings, while the southern half is home to wintering lapwings. A similar pattern exists in the UK, but the wintering population lives along the southwest corner of the country.
What does the Lapwing Symbolize for Ireland?
In 1990, the Irish Wildlife Conservancy recommended the northern lapwing to be Ireland’s national bird. The conservancy noted that it has a wide distribution, along with feathers that resemble the national flag’s colors. The wings are mostly an iridescent green, the breast is white, and the feathers under the tail are orangish. The commonality of the northern lapwing may be the most significant factor in the country choosing it as the national bird.
Is the Lapwing an Endangered Species?
The lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), or northern lapwing, is not an endangered species. According to the IUCN it is listed as “Near Threatened” due to the threats of habitat loss and land-use intensification. These concerns implicate the population is decreasing and needs to be monitored to ensure healthy populations continue into the future.
Is the Lapwing Featured on the Ireland Money?
No, the lapwing is not included on the money of Ireland. However, barnyard animals were on the reverse side of the early coins. These animals represented the produce of the nation. The animals featured on the coins included:
- horse (half-crown)
- salmon (florin)
- bull (shilling)
- wolfhound (sixpence)
- hare (three pence)
- hen and chicks (penny)
- pig and piglets (halfpenny)
- woodcock (farthing)
Is the Lapwing on the National Flag of Ireland?
The national flag of Ireland is three equal horizontal bands of green, white, and orange, and it does not include any animals. The colors of the flag symbolize “the inclusion of and the aspiration for unity between people of different traditions on this island”.
What is the National Animal of Ireland?
There is some debate over which animal should be the national animal of Ireland. The debate is between the Irish hare and the Irish elk. The Irish elk is an extinct deer that had large, impressive antlers. However, since it is extinct, many propose that the Irish hare be the official national animal. The Irish hare is one of the oldest surviving mammals in Ireland and is one of the largest hare species. Irish hares are large rabbits, sometimes called mountain hares, that can weigh six to eight pounds!
What other Animals Live in Ireland?
Other animals in Ireland include a wide range of birds like the puffin, white-tailed eagle, ringed plover, and razorbill. The main species of mammals are badgers, otters, pygmy shrews, red foxes, and red deer.
Did you know there are no snakes in Ireland? Similar to the island of New Zealand, there are no snake species native to the island of Ireland. However, there are plenty of amphibians, including green tree frogs and common green geckos.
Off the coast of Ireland, you will find a variety of whales like the minkes, fin, humpbacks, blue, and sperm whales. Killer whales, which are actually in the dolphin family, also live off the coast of Ireland.
Are there Sharks off the Coast of Ireland?
Yes! There are plenty of shark species that live around Ireland, including basking sharks that swim around with their mouths wide open to filter plankton. Additionally, Ireland is home to blue sharks (that can grow to be 10-13 feet long) and spotted dogfish sharks. There are plenty of beautiful beaches in Ireland, like Bundoran, Keem Beach, and Whiterocks Beach. Swimming off the coast of Ireland is quite safe, with only one unprovoked shark attack dating back to 1930, according to the Shark Attack Database.
Do Sharks Eat Shorebirds, Like the Lapwing?
Sharks are not picky eaters; they will eat just about anything. If a lapwing was searching for food in a vulnerable territory, a shark wouldn’t hesitate to snap it up for dinner. In fact, when searching through the contents of a shark’s stomach, researchers have found some interesting animals, including shorebirds like lapwings.
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- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/lapwing
- Mayo-Ireland, Available here: https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/ballycroy/ballycroy-national-park.html
- IUCN Redlist, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22693949/111044786
- Independent, Available here: https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/lapwings-tricolour-feathers-fit-the-bill-35153566.html
- RTE, Available here: https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2021/0602/1225498-ireland-irish-free-state-coins-percy-metcalfe-barnyard-animals/
- gov, Available here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/adc448-the-national-flag