Irish Name: Pilibín
Scientific name: Vanellus vanellus
Bird Family: Plovers
Conservation status


Residents, summer visitors from the Continent (France & Iberia) and winter visitors (from western & central Europe). Some overlap between all three groups. Greatest numbers occur in Ireland between September & April


Distinct black-and-white, pigeon-sized wader, with wide rounded wings and floppy beats in flight. Wispy crest extending upwards from back of head and green/purple irridescence seen at close range. Pinkish legs.


Plaintive "pwaay-eech' in flight, song described as 'chae-widdlewip, i-wip i-wip… cheee-o-wip'


Feed on a variety of soil and surface-living invertebrates, particularly small arthropods and earthworms. Also feed at night, possibly to avoid kleptoparasitic attacks by Black-headed Gulls, but also, some of the larger earthworm species are present near the soil surface at night, and thus are more easily accessible. They use traditional feeding areas, are opportunistic, and will readily exploit temporary food sources, such as ploughed fields and on the edge of floodwaters.


They breed on open farmland, and appear to prefer nesting in fields that are relatively bare (particularly when cultivated in the spring) and adjacent to grass.


Wintering distribution in Ireland is widespread. Large flocks regularly recorded in a variety of habitats, including most of the major wetlands, pasture and rough land adjacent to bogs.

Monitored by

Irish Wetland Bird Survey.

Blog posts about this bird


Government must find 17 million euro to save Ireland’s most threatened farmland birds

Photo: Curlew chick feeding habitat on farmland BirdWatch Ireland has written to Ministers McConalogue, Hackett and Noonan calling for them to find 17 million euro to put in place a robust national scheme to support farmers to save threatened farmland birds. BirdWatch Ireland has identified that a scheme underpinned by at least a 30 million euro is required to support farmers to undertake habitat and other measures to save Ireland's breeding waders from extinction. Those are Curlew, Lapwing, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Redshank and Snipe. In this regard, the Irish Government is found wanting, as to date it has only secured 13 million euro in Ireland's Common Agriculture Policy Strategic Plan, split between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Oonagh Duggan, Head of Advocacy at Birdwatch Ireland said, “The budget for farming in the next CAP is 9.8 billion euro yet a mere 6 million euro of this has been allocated to pay farmers to protect and restore farmland for Curlew and other breeding waders, the most threatened of our farmland bird species. This is not even one-sixteenth of a percentage point of the available funds while 1.25 billion is allocated to the Area for Natural Constraints scheme yet it has no linkage with environmental action. And the 1.5 billion ecoscheme is very weak on environmental ambition”. “Coupled with the right policies, the breeding wader scheme is one which can deliver real results if properly funded. Farmers want to act for nature but need the funding to enable them to do so. We call on Ministers McConalogue, Noonan and Hackett to work together to secure the additional 17 million needed to ensure a robust national breeding wader scheme is in the next CAP. We know that conservation actions work, but political will and investment is urgently needed to fund these actions before it is too late. “Agriculture policy has played a significant role in driving the losses of bird species like Curlew and Lapwing, and funds must be found in Ireland’s budget for the Common Agriculture Policy to stop these declines and reverse them. If these species go extinct in Ireland, costly re-introduction plans will be required and no one wants to be in that position. The time to invest in our natural heritage is now.” Breeding waders are the most threatened group of farmland birds. Loss of populations and range is down to policies which have encouraged specialisation and intensification in agriculture, peat cutting and now afforestation policy and the impacts of predation too.  
Breeding Waders Conservation Status (BoCCI 2020) Percent Change 1970-2010 Percent Change 1990-2010
Curlew Red List -78 -73
Dunlin Red List* -69 -71
Golden Plover Red List* -50 -42
Redshank Red List -55 -47
Lapwing Red List -53 -33
Snipe Red List -34 -8
Figures from Bird Atlas 2013
* = Annex 1 Birds Directive
  Farm schemes for waders, also have benefits for other threatened ground nesting birds, including skylark and meadow pipit, insects including pollinators, species rich and High Nature Value grasslands. These sustainable agricultural systems, contribute to improving water quality, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and support a healthier agri-environment overall. We know that conservation actions work but political will and investment is needed to fund these actions. Recently the European Commission sent a letter to the Irish Government stating that its approval of Ireland’s Common Agriculture Policy Strategic Plan and its budget of 9.8 billion euro in citizens’ funding hinges on a significant ramp-up in environmental ambition. The necessary measures include reversal of farmland biodiversity loss, effectively tackling polluted waterways and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. However, BirdWatch Ireland analysis shows that only 7% of the overall budget targeted towards the Cooperative Projects will result in effective action for the environment, with the rest going to fund measures that are not targeted enough to secure environmental improvements. BirdWatch Ireland's submission to the observation letter states clearly what needs to be done to get Ireland on track to meet environmental obligations within the CAP. Oonagh Duggan continued, “CAP public funds should be redirected to pay for public benefits on farmland. Farmers desperately want to act on climate, water quality and biodiversity loss and should be supported to do so. It is outrageous that so little funding is allocated to these and that schemes are not designed to ensure quality outcomes.” One of the objectives of the CAP is that agriculture funds must contribute to reversing the losses of farmland birds. BirdWatch Ireland has mapped out where these species are and Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan is not doing anywhere near enough to meet this objective. If Government fails to fund the breeding wader scheme adequately it will mean that they have turned their back on these most threatened of our farmland birds and that will be the lasting legacy of this government.

New analysis charts fortunes of wintering waterbirds at a hundred Irish wetlands

  The fortunes of Ireland’s wintering waterbird species have been published for 97 lakes, rivers and coastal estuaries across Ireland. You can now see how different species of ducks, waders and other waterbirds are faring at your local wetland, and how that compares to the national trend.   Every winter, hundreds of dedicated bird surveyors count the waterbirds in their locality as part of the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS). The survey,which has been running since 1994, is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and coordinated by BirdWatch Ireland. The winter months see hundreds of thousands of swans, geese, ducks, waders and other waterbirds come to Ireland to escape the freezing conditions in their Arctic breeding grounds. As a result, Irish wetlands are of international importance for a number of species.   Birdwatcher-looking-through-telescope
Over a thousand birdwatchers have contributed to I-WeBS since it began in winter 1994/95.
This study focused on 36 wintering waterbird species at 97 of the most closely-monitored wetland sites, spanning 15 counties across Ireland. The extent of increase or decrease for each species at each site was determined. Updated national trends were also produced. While national trends are produced at regular intervals, this is the first time that species trends for individual wetland sites have been published in this way. This information can now be used to better target conservation actions in particular counties and at specific locations and help ensure potential new developments don’t worsen the situation for wildlife in these vitally important areas.  

The full results of this ‘Waterbird Site Trends’ analysis can be viewed here, including links to view species trends at individual sites.

The new national trends for our wintering waterbirds can be viewed here.

  Declines The greatest declines were seen in diving duck species, namely Goldeneye, Pochard and Scaup, which dropped by 65-90% on average since the mid-1990’s, across the 97 sites analysed. Climate change and warming winter temperatures are undoubtedly one of the drivers of these declines, allowing these birds to spend the winter closer to their breeding grounds in northern Europe. At a more local level in Ireland, loss of habitat, changes to water quality, increased disturbance on lakes and in estuaries, and poorly situated developments all worsen the situation, meaning fewer and fewer of these birds return to us each year. Wading birds of the Plover family have also undergone huge declines of over 50%. Lapwing, traditionally referred to as the ‘Green Plover’ or Pilibín and often considered Ireland’s national bird, declined by 64% since the mid-1990’s. Their close relative the Golden Plover, which feeds on grasslands in every county in Ireland in the winter, have declined by a similar amount, as have their rarer coastal relative the Grey Plover. Ireland’s breeding Curlew population is well known to be teetering on the edge of extinction, with only around 100 pairs nesting here in recent summers. Our wintering population is much larger though, as Curlew from northern Europe migrate to Ireland from late summer to early spring, but these birds face similar threats throughout their range. Our wintering Curlew have declined by 43% since the mid-1990’s.   male-goldeneye-in-sea
Goldeneye - a diving duck species that has undergone large declines in Ireland.
  Health Check “We regularly do this sort of analysis at national level, providing a ‘health check’ to see how Ireland’s wintering waterbirds are doing”, said John Kennedy of BirdWatch Ireland, who led this research “but now we’re delving a bit deeper to see precisely where the problems are. Some species will be showing the same upward or downward trend wherever you look, but there are some wetlands where we see faster declines than we’d expect. That might be because of particular problems at key sites – loss of habitats, changes to water quality, increased disturbance from recreational activities, and similar issues. Equally, there are likely to be places where a species is bucking the national trend and doing very well, and there will be practical lessons to be learned there too.”  
Lapwing is considered by many to be Ireland's national bird, but their declines are cause for concern.
  Increases Black-tailed Godwit, a member of the same family as the Curlew that breeds in Iceland, has increased by 92% since annual monitoring began in 1994. Species such as Mute Swan, Little Grebe and Grey Heron, which breed on Irish lakes and rivers are all stable or increasing in number. One of Ireland’s most recent arrivals, the Little Egret, has shown a steady and significant increase since it arrived into Ireland 20 years ago and is now widespread across the entire country. Species with a mixed report card include the Light-bellied Brent Goose, which has increased overall but is now showing a recent decline. Numbers of Sanderling, which the Pixar short movie ‘Piper’ was based on, are 85% higher than they were when monitoring began, but have decreased by 24% in the last five years. Recent declines of this magnitude are cause for concern and there is a risk that longer term increases for some species could be quickly undone in a few short years. sanderling-taking-flight
Sanderling  have increased overall since monitoring began here, but shown recent declines.
  “Ireland’s waterbirds are indicators of the health of the wetland environment they use. These are sites that we depend on too – for drinking water, flood relief, agriculture, tourism, aquaculture and industry. As is always the case with this sort of research, it has answered some questions but poses many more, and we’ll be scrutinising these results in the months and years to come to decipher some patterns of change that might not be so immediately obvious.” Said John Kennedy. Scientific Officer Brian Burke said “We would encourage everyone to visit the website and take a look at how the birds are faring at their local site, and other sites in their county. When you see the numbers side-by-side with the national trend figures, you might be surprised to see how a species is faring closer to home. Of course, the next step is to ensure that these data are used by communities, local authorities and politicians, to protect our precious wetlands and all of the ecosystem benefits they’ve brought us for generations. Since the survey began in 1994, over 1,100 counters from across the country have given up their time to provide this data, amounting to more than 81,000 winter site visits. None of this would be possible without their dedication!” grey-plover-feeding-on-worm-prey
Grey Plover, a strictly coastal version of the more widespread Golden Plover and Lapwing, are faring poorly.
The results are also important in a planning context. I-WeBS Project Manager Lesley Lewis explains “An Appropriate Assessment (AA) is an assessment of the potential adverse effects of a plan or project (in combination with other plans or projects) on Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas, the latter often designated for migratory wintering waterbirds. These new site trends will therefore allow those completing AA to assess the current status of the waterbird species at the relevant sites. This is an important improvement to the process that will have implications for future developments across the country.” Dr Seán Kelly, waterbird ecologist at the NPWS who manages the I-WeBS contract added: “The Irish Wetland Bird Survey is an incredibly successful and valuable bird monitoring programme. The success of the programme is down to the hundreds of citizen scientists and NPWS and BirdWatch Ireland staff across Ireland who take part in the survey. The size, strength and extent of this bird monitoring community is simply fantastic, and I would like to thank every individual for their ongoing efforts. The survey has been running since 1994 so the resulting long-term dataset allows us to robustly monitor environmental change as it manifests in and impacts upon bird populations. I really encourage everyone to take a look at the report and consider the findings, at a local and national level. The data gathered under this survey allows us to further understand how and where conservation management and policies can be improved.”  

The new national trends for our wintering waterbirds can be viewed here.

The full results of this ‘Waterbird Site Trends’ analysis can be viewed here, including links to view species trends at individual sites.

Full details about the Irish Wetland Bird Survey can be found here.