First Little Tern Eggs of 2022 at Kilcoole colony

May 18, 2022
Kilcoole Little Tern ProjectMigrationSeabirdsSpecies Conservation and Land Management

The first Little Tern eggs have been found on Kilcoole beach for this summer, following hot on the heels of several pairs of Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher. It’s a timely reminder to watch where you walk on sandy and shingle beaches around the coast this summer, and keep dogs on their leads to ensure any breeding birds can nest without hassle.


These are some of the first Little Tern eggs at Kilcoole for 2022. Even when you know they’re there, they’re so well camouflaged that they can be very hard to find! (Photos by Emma Tiernan, taken under NPWS license)


Since the mid-1980’s there has been a concerted effort to protect nesting Little Terns on the beach at Kilcoole in north Wicklow. The conservation project is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and run by BirdWatch Ireland. After two weeks of setting up huge lengths of fencing and netting to keep out predators, people and dogs, as well as setting up our observation hide and getting our equipment in order, our wardening team have now begun 24/7 monitoring at the colony. Last year over 200 pairs of Little Terns nested at Kilcoole, which is likely around 40% of the entire Irish breeding population. As well as Little Terns, there are Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher nesting on the shingle beach and benefiting from our conservation efforts there. This has been a hugely successful project to date, and proof that with long-term funding, the right equipment and staff, conservation efforts can work! Similar projects are underway at Portrane in north Dublin, by the BirdWatch Ireland Fingal Branch, and at Baltray in Louth, by Louth Nature Trust, ensuring a network of colonies in relatively close proximity (as the tern flies!) and helping to secure the presence of the Little Tern in the Irish Sea and beyond.

As of Wednesday morning (18th May 2022), we have six Little Tern nests, six Ringed Plover nests, one Oystercatcher (and possibly a second) within the core nesting area. There are likely some other Ringed Plover nests further along the beach, which we’ll seek out in the coming weeks.


Setting up some of the fencing and the wardens observation hide on the shingle beach at Kilcoole, before the Little Terns arrive. 


Even though we know there are nests of Ringed Plover, Little Tern and Oystercatcher on this shingle beach, they are incredibly difficult to find and often require careful observation from a distance away. With that in mind we can’t stress enough the importance of a) watching where you walk and b) keeping dogs on a leash, this summer when you’re walking on a beach or lakeshore or visiting coastal or inland islands. Every year we get sent photos of nests on beaches, so please be aware that it’s a breach of the Irish Wildlife Act to photograph a nest without a licence. So don’t worry about taking a photo if you find a nest, just concentrate on getting away as quickly as you can and allowing the parents to return!

If you’re on a beach this summer and spot a Ringed Plover or Oystercatcher watching you from a few metres away, maybe calling (but not always), or a small group of Terns flying and calling and seemingly agitated, these are all clues that you’ve disturbed them from their nest. If this happens, quickly and carefully get out of the area and allow them back to their eggs or chicks!


Nests like this Ringed Plover clutch are to be found on beaches all around Ireland’s coast, so be careful where you walk and let your dog roam. They’re very well camouflaged! 

Most of the nesting birds on the beach at Kilcoole are protected by fencing and signage, but that’s not the case on most beaches, so be careful where you walk! 


In other positive news to kick off the season, we were delighted to receive a donation of €1,350 from the Ashford Branch of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association, which will allow us to purchase new information signs for the colony, as well as some equipment to further enhance our nest monitoring and ring-reading efforts. A donation like this enables us to enhance our monitoring and research efforts, as well as providing more information to the locals in north Wicklow who generously give up a small portion of the shingle beach to ensure these special birds have a safe space to nest each summer. We’re hugely grateful to all of the members of Ashford ICA who made this happen!


Kilcoole Project Manager Brian Burke receives a donation from Anne Newton on behalf of the Ashford branch of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association. 


Stay tuned for further updates as the season progresses at our Kilcoole Little Tern colony, and if you’re in the area be sure to visit to get a glimpse of the birds and have a chat with our wardens.


The Kilcoole Little Tern Conservation project is funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and we work closely with the Conservation Rangers and staff in Wicklow to ensure this project continues to be a success.

We’re hugely grateful again to the members of the Ashford Branch of the ICA for their contribution to the project through fundraising and donation.