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


We've got Corncrakes covered on the Mullet!

BirdWatch Ireland has been working to save Corncrakes in Ireland for over thirty years, with support and help from our BirdLife International Partners the RSPB.   Back in 1991, two young Corncrake fieldworkers were employed by BirdWatch Ireland to draw attention to the dire plight of the fast-disappearing Corncrake. Dr Anita Donaghy, now BirdWatch Ireland’s Assistant Head of Species and Land Management, was one of them. “In those days, relatively little was known about the ecology of this secretive long-distance migrant, except that they were confined to areas where mowing was late, such as on the floodplain of the Shannon (the Callows) where drainage ditches allowed  the meadows to dry for mowing in late summer. But through dedication and many days and nights of field research, we have built up and disseminated our knowledge and understanding of all the key components of the management these iconic birds need,” Anita notes. “Now we know there are three essential ingredients – mowing fields after the second broods hatch in early August, mowing fields from the centre out with margins left along the edges and providing areas of early and late cover to give shelter at the start and end of their breeding season. Gradually we convinced the State to fund schemes for Corncrakes and, along the way, others have joined us. For example, one of our closest allies on Tory Island, Anton Meenan, has worked with BirdWatch Ireland to improve the areas of early cover on his land.” “The early cover patches we have worked so hard to create are always the first place to host a Corncrake on the island,” according to Anton. On our own reserves on the Mullet Peninsula in Co Mayo, we have created a mosaic of species-rich grassland and early/late cover patches, providing prime habitat at all stages of the breeding season. Last year (2020), NPWS confirmed seven calling males in this area, four of which were on BirdWatch Ireland’s reserve at Termoncarragh Meadows.   a-person-measuring-the-beak-of-a-water-rail-with-vernier-callipers
It has taken a huge amount of research over many years to inform the Corncrake conservation methods used in Ireland and Britain today. 
  “Creating early cover patches has been key to our successful Corncrake management,” said Dave Suddaby, BirdWatch Ireland’s Reserves Manager. “The most important thing about early cover vegetation is its structure – it must be tall enough to shelter birds but open enough to allow them to move easily through it. “Several herb species can be the mainstay of an early cover patch: nettles, hogweed and cow parsley are good examples of species with the right structure. It’s best to work with the species found locally or which are easiest to grow in the local conditions. Nettles and hogweed are good choices as tall-herb species within the right soil structure, especially where that can be enriched with farmyard manure or similar. “Over the years we have worked with local farmers who have provided us with manure and a seed source. The seeds of nettle and hogweed are collected by hand and are then broadcast into the enriched soils; together with the other grasses and herbs that grow up alongside. These then develop as cover areas over a series of years, providing ideal habitat both early and late in the season. “It is important though that these do not become thick and impenetrable, and so each autumn these areas are flail-mown to maintain an open structure the following spring, thus negating the need to use herbicides. This management provides habitat for an abundance of invertebrates which Corncrakes feed on.” However, we are always trialing new and better ways of providing optimum habitat for Corncrakes and we liaise closely with our RSPB colleagues in this respect. Recent studies indicate that the larger the cover area, the better, so at present, we are experimenting with creating large plots of cover over a whole field. “We know from radio tracking studies that female Corncrakes far prefer large cover areas in which to raise their chicks over grass which is cut for hay or silage,” says Anita. “Therefore covering entire fields with this type of vegetation could allow more pairs to nest there. Whilst this might not be feasible for farmers who need the grass crop, on a nature reserve, where biodiversity is the focus, we can experiment with this. However, there is a financial cost to this, and with support from the Heritage Council, we have kept costings low; however, that does mean that the cover areas take more time to develop. Even so, it is proving favourable to Corncrakes, with two males holding territory within the field last summer.” However, at this reserve not only have we protected Corncrakes, we have created a biodiversity haven for a wealth of other wildlife too. This work was initiated with funding support as part of an EU Termoncarragh Life project for Annex 1 Species between 2001 and 2005, and thereafter by other supporters, particularly the Heritage Council.   Red Necked Phalarope opening wings
Red-necked Phalarope is one of the rarest breeding birds in Ireland, and one of many species to have benefited from the work on our Mayo reserves.
  The restoration of the pool systems at our Annagh Marsh reserve, overseen by Dave, has, after an absence of 30 years, seen the return of successfully breeding Red-necked Phalaropes. These beautiful and enigmatic birds are one of seven rare or endangered breeding species to occur in the marsh that are Red-listed in our newly updated all-Ireland list of Birds of Conservation Concern (BOCCI 4). Lapwing is another of these highly threatened Red-listed species, and our active management has seen their breeding population grow from zero to 26 pairs over the last 10 years, assisted by the erection and management of a predator-proof fence and the help and cooperation of local farmers. With improved productivity, breeding Lapwings have returned to the surrounding area.   lapwing-walking-through-tall-grass
Breeding Lapwing have been lost from many parts of Ireland, but their numbers are increasing on our Mayo reserves and surrounding farmland.
  Our management at the marsh and nearby at our Termoncarragh Meadows reserve is also providing a haven for a suite of rare and vulnerable invertebrates, such as the Belted Beauty moth, the Red-banded Sand Wasp and the Irish Click Beetle Selatosomus melancholicus. A recent study by University College Dublin confirmed that our reserve areas hold the highest numbers of the rare and endangered Great Yellow Bumblebee on the Mullet Peninsula, which is home to the only remaining population currently known in Ireland. At BirdWatch Ireland, we are working tirelessly to protect biodiversity through our project work, our reserves and our advocacy for nature.

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You can read more about our Annagh Marsh and Termoncarragh Reserves, and about where to go birdwatching in north-west Mayo, in the articles below, taken from our membership magazine 'Wings'.

information-leaflet-for-birdwatch-ireland-annagh-marsh-nature-reserve     document-site-guide-north-mayo

BirdWatch Ireland staff meet ministers to demand action over shocking wild bird declines

On World Curlew Day, the Curlew is a symbol of successive government failure to protect our wildlife. BirdWatch Ireland’s top scientists are today, on World Curlew Day, meeting Ministers of State Malcolm Noonan and Pippa Hackett to discuss alarming wild bird declines. Experts on farmland birds, waterbirds and seabirds will tell the ministers that successive governments have ignored biodiversity and that they must seize the moment to turn around the fate of so many species. Last week BirdWatch Ireland and RSPB Northern Ireland jointly published the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland 2020-2026 list. Using a traffic-light system, it reviewed the conservation status of 211 regularly occurring bird species in Ireland. The findings revealed a shocking 46% increase in the number of bird species on the Red List, the highest threat category, since the last review in 2013. Altogether 63% of bird species on the island of Ireland are now in serious trouble, a truly shameful and unacceptable situation that must urgently be addressed by government. Ministers will hear that the catastrophic declines of farmland birds, especially breeding waders like the Curlew and the Lapwing, are a consequence of successive agriculture and forestry policies which have prioritised intensification and afforestation at the cost of homes for biodiversity. Dr. Anita Donaghy, BirdWatch Ireland Head of Species and Land Management said: “On World Curlew Day we are still waiting on government to implement the recommendations of the Curlew Task Force published in 2019. We cannot delay anymore. “We have reached a tipping point in the future of many of our wild bird populations. The declines in the Kestrel, the beautiful and formerly common farmland bird of prey that hovers while hunting rodents, are grave. They indicate that our countryside is becoming ever more inhospitable for nature. This must be resolved in AgriFood Strategy 2030, the CAP Strategic plan and in the Forestry Programme for once and for all. “Successive governments have targeted funding on intensification and forestry premia, and much less so at supporting farmers to save the habitats of threatened species on their farms.” Dr. Lesley Lewis of BirdWatch Ireland, co-author of the Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland paper said: “Ireland’s waterbirds are declining at rate higher than those in most other EU member states. Government must now put in place a multilateral and all-of-government approach with biodiversity at the heart of decision making. Otherwise the trend will be for more species to join the Red List and to head for extinction here” Dr. Stephen Newton, BirdWatch Ireland Senior Seabird Conservation Officer said: “Post Brexit, Ireland is the most important EU member state for the 4 Red-listed seabird species Puffin, Razorbill, Kittiwake, and Leach’s Storm Petrel. We must meet national and EU targets to cut emissions and also ensure that offshore renewables safeguard threatened species. To do this we need a lot more funding for research into species ecology”. Oonagh Duggan, BirdWatch Ireland’s Head of Advocacy said: “Failure to adequately fund the National Parks and Wildlife Service has hindered species and habitat conservation at every level. Government ambitions to meet climate targets can be supported by ambitious restoration of habitats, but significantly increased staff numbers and funding is required within the NPWS so it can be fit for purpose for this task."