Welcoming new lockdown friends: Longford garden is a haven for unique and unusual birds

Wildlife: Local couple turns their garden into a habitat for great spotted woodpeckers and other birds

A Cullyfad based couple are enjoying the unique beauty that can only be brought to a garden by beautiful and colourful birds.

Elaine Igoe, who is originally from Killoe, and Strokestown native, Cian Dolan have a very simple set up of bird feeders in their garden which has attracted a range of birds, most notably a pair of great spotted woodpeckers.

“We have such a simple set-up that it is something that every household could replicate. During the height of winter, I had 10 feeders on the go, as the warmer weather has come birds have more food available to forage so I have reduced to four feeders, but they are still flocking to the feeding station,” Elaine told the Longford Leader.

“We have a variety of feeders which will attract different birds. We have the typical mesh feeder for peanuts which the woodpeckers love as it is ideal for them to cling to as they have an unusual shaped claw, the niger seed feeder for the goldfinches and suet ball and mixed seed feeders which suit almost all the rest of the birds.”

Elaine knew the area around her home was a haven for wild birds and animals but said she didn’t realise how many obscure breeds were in the area until recently.

“It is an old wooded area, so the ideal ground for all wild creatures. When I first saw the woodpecker, I was excited but didn’t realise how rare they were until I posted to a Facebook page to help me verify that it was a Great Spotted Woodpecker,” she said.

“I first saw the male bird in January, and in March I looked out to see two perched at the feeding station, a male and a female – which means we likely have a breeding pair.

“They visit every day now, so I make sure to have good quality whole peanuts out for them – it’s great that there are so many good stockists for wild bird feed in Longford now.”

Elaine always had an interest in animals and wildlife but it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country that she began to take such an interest in bird watching.

“If Covid taught us anything it was to enjoy nature. Working from home has afforded me more time to the birds, so I decided to complete the Bird Watch Ireland Garden Bird Survey over winter too,” she said.

“I also log any sightings to the Biodiversity Ireland App. The birds were a welcome distraction over the past year, however if I wasn’t working from home, I probably would never have seen the birds and wouldn’t have been able to spend as much time encouraging them to feed and nest near us.

“There are still a few garden birds which I have yet to see but I will keep up feeding all year around and hopefully see more new breeds. We are also hopeful there may be some Great Spotted Woodpecker chicks visiting before they head off to find their own territory.”

Elaine and Cian have a large number of common garden birds visiting, such as the robin, chaffinches, wren, great tit, blue tit and coal tits, as well as goldfinches, siskins, greenfinches, bullfinches, dunnocks and treecreepers.

“We have a rare finch breed called brambling who are a Scandinavian breed and they have been present in the garden all winter now,” Elaine explained.

“We have some larger birds who chance stealing some free food too, such as the beautiful Eurasian jay (corvid/crow) and magpies, blackbirds and pigeons.

“In the garden forestry there is a family of four ravens living atop a giant red wood/sequoia tree as well as three buzzards who are regularly being chased by the ravens.

“Our home is a long way off the road and you can barely hear any traffic, which I think has helped create a safe haven for the animals.”

Unfortunately, one of the N4 proposed routes will cut through the grounds near Elaine and Cian’s home, destroying this safe habitat they have created for the local wildlife.

“The local committee have lodged objections so we hope that it does not take this route, as the biodiversity here which is thriving will be obliterated,” said Elaine with a marked concern for the beautiful wildlife that has flocked to her home.

“Growing up, I thought we had woodpeckers in Ireland, but in fact they have only started to repopulate Ireland since 2010, with the first pairs seen in Wicklow.

“In 2018 there were 30 known breeding pairs in the south east and north east and now they have spread further west with some sightings noted in Galway and Mayo.

“It’s amazing to see. There have also been reports that the breed has even been seen in Canada, which proves their resilience.”

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