The Birds of County Cork


  • The Birds of County Cork by Patrick Smiddy, Mark Shorten and Russ Heselden (Cork University Press, 2022).
  • 636 pages, colour photos, illustrations, colour maps and tables.
  • ISBN 9781782055198. Hbk, €39.

It was with great excitement that I first thumbed through the recently published The Birds of County Cork. This 636-page epic is an avifauna dedicated to what is arguably Ireland's most celebrated birding county, with its fantastic late summer seawatching, rich track record of producing extreme rarities from west and east in autumn and large numbers of waterbirds in winter.

An exhaustive introductory section details the geography and geology of Co Cork, its habitats, key sites and areas, as well as its long history of ornithological study. For those less familiar with the county, this makes for a fascinating and contextual read – it's interesting to note that this book refers to how underwatched the county remains, using Kent (in south-east England) as a direct comparison for having a much higher number of active observers.

Following this is the Systematic List of birds reported in the county. This is accurate up to 2021, with a short excerpt at the end of the accounts briefly detailing the outstanding potential county list additions yet to be adjudicated on by the Irish Rare Birds Committee (IRBC). Discounting these, the list stands at a mighty 427 species, of which a remarkable 94 represented first records for Ireland – highlighting the importance of Co Cork as a birding destination, particularly in terms of vagrants.

There are some fascinating anecdotes within the species accounts, and it is clear from reading many of these that the status of many birds in Co Cork very much remains in flux. For example, I felt a pang of sadness when reading of the disappearance of Bewick's Swan from the county (hundreds wintered as recently as the 1990s), as well as the shocking decline of breeding European Herring Gull, but this was countered by the rise of Little Egret and the return of breeding White-tailed Eagle. Overall, though, the losses outweigh the gains.

Many of the accounts are much briefer, however, with vagrants often afforded the space only for locations and dates. This, I felt, was a slight shame, given that it is many of these which help the county to stand out from the crowd – Blue-winged Warbler on Cape Clear in October 2000 being one such example. But it has to be remembered that this is a reference aimed at ornithologists, planners, farmers, environmentalists and the like, not a book dedicated to rarities, even if this would have been an added nicety (and would have widened the scope of audience).

All in all, this is a great book, jam-packed with information that gives a fine insight into how birds are faring in south-west Ireland. Credit must go to the authors for their knowledge and dedication in putting this detailed piece of work together.

Written by: Josh Jones

Josh Jones manages BirdGuides.com and is Editor of Birdwatch magazine. He is an avid birder and keen all-round naturalist. Follow him on Twitter: @jrmjones