Seabird surveys

Monitoring marine ecosystem indicators

Irelands Seabirds

In Ireland we have 24 species of seabirds, dependent on the marine environment for most or all of the year, and breeding in Ireland on our spectacular cliffs and islands. Many occur in internationally important numbers, with 1600 pairs of Roseate Tern on Rockabill, Dublin, making it the largest colony in Europe, while the Blasket Islands of Kerry support a key ‘colony-cluster’ of European Storm-petrels. BirdWatch Ireland is actively involved in the monitoring of Ireland’s seabird populations to help ensure we maintain and enhance their numbers into the future.

Why do we count seabirds?

Seabirds are an excellent indicator of the health of the marine environment that they rely on. BirdWatch Ireland has a long association with monitoring and protecting Irish seabirds. Not only do we own (outright or by lease) and manage several internationally important island colonies such as Little Skellig, Puffin Island and Rockabill but we continually track breeding numbers and success, conduct detailed research on migrations, movements and feeding behaviour using hi-tech bird-borne tags and we help birdwatchers and the general public observe and appreciate seabirds through events and guided nature walks at sites such as Dalkey Island and Ireland’s Eye, both within easy reach by public transport from Dublin.

National censuses

The first national seabird census was undertaken in 1969-70 (Operation Seafarer), the second 1985-88 (Seabird Colony Register), and the most recent complete one was ‘Seabird 2000’ spanning 1998-2002. The 2019 breeding season will mark the final year of the fourth census ‘Seabirds Count’.


Seabird Monitoring Programme

This UK-Irish collaborative project collates information gathered on breeding seabirds between the national censuses. In Ireland we census the largest cliff-nesting colonies in Dublin, Donegal, Clare and Wicklow on a 5-year cycle, with some more species-focused monitoring of Kittiwakes annually and opportunistic counts elsewhere. The MarPAMM Project will also gather this information for sites in Donegal in 2019 and 2020.


BirdWatch Ireland carries out annual monitoring and conservation of breeding Roseate, Common and Arctic Terns, as well as Kittiwakes and Black Guillemots, on Rockabill Island (Dublin).

Little Terns

BirdWatch Ireland carries out annual monitoring and conservation of Little Terns at Kilcoole (Wicklow). Our Fingal Branch are involved in protecting the species in north Dublin, and we work with Louth Nature Trust to protect the Little Terns at Baltray.


BirdWatch Ireland staff will collect data on marine bird numbers, distributions and breeding success in important marine areas in counties Donegal and Louth. The monitoring data will feed directly into the management plans being developed for the sites in question.

Oiled Wildlife Response Network

This is a coalition of conservation and animal welfare organisations that coordinate the training of volunteers to act as ‘first responders’ in the event of an oilspill and the beaching of oiled seabirds on our shores. The network is always eager for more volunteers to sign up and receive training so that they can help in case of an emergency.



This EU-funded Atlantic Area Interreg programme (2010-2014) aimed to collect data on seabird movements in late summer and autumn from ten key seawatching headlands around the Irish coast. These headlands witness the post-breeding migration of North Atlantic/Arctic species to more southerly wintering areas (e.g. skuas) and the arrival of some southern hemisphere and Mediterranean-breeding species to Irish waters (e.g. Balearic, Sooty, Great and Cory’s Shearwaters).