The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 674/On the Breeding Range of the Yellow Wagtail in Ireland

On the Breeding Range of the Yellow Wagtail in Ireland (1897)
Robert Warren
4060228On the Breeding Range of the Yellow Wagtail in Ireland1897Robert Warren


By Robert Warren.

The Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla raii (according to Yarrell and H. Saunders), is generally distributed as a breeding species throughout England and Wales in all suitable localities. In Ireland it is a remarkable fact that, as far as at present known, the breeding range of this species is restricted within the very limited areas of the shores and islands of four lakes (Loughs Neagh, Carra, Mask, and Corrib); though once, according to Mr. E. Williams of Dublin, a pair bred a few miles from that city. Up to the date of the publication of William Thompson's 'Birds of Ireland' (1849–1851) this bird was only known to breed on the shores of Lough Neagh[1] and Derrywarragh Island; and in his appendix to the third volume the author mentions "visiting, on May 4th, 1850, in company of his friend Mr. Garrett, the Wagtails' breeding haunts on Derrywarragh, where they saw not less than forty of them; in one little piece of pasture three pairs appeared within twenty-five yards of each other, and three or four birds were frequently seen only a few feet apart on the ground, or on wing at the same moment."[2]

Since then the late Lord Lilford found a nest on the shore of Lough Corrib, in Co. Galway; and Mr. W.H. Good, of Westport, Co. Mayo, informed me (in 1891) that he discovered them breeding on the shores and islands of Loughs Carra and Mask, in South Mayo; but it was not until June, 1893, that, in company of my friend Mr. W. Williams, of Dublin, when visiting Lough Carra, that I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the Yellow Wagtail in its breeding haunt. We had walked from Ballinrobe to the bridge at the end of the lake, and, while watching some Terns fishing, Mr. Williams suddenly exclaimed, "I hear the calls of a Yellow Wagtail"; and shortly after we saw a female with food in her bill, standing on a tall thistle in an oat-field alongside the road. Mr. Williams began imitating the call, and did it so cleverly that in a short time the female was joined by a lovely male; and as he continued to call, a second male also came up to where the other two birds were; but although we spent more than half an hour searching for the nest, we were unable to find it, and had to return disappointed at our want of success. The next evening we saw the birds at the same place, and again searched for the nest without success, but felt quite satisfied that two pairs were breeding at the place somewhere about the oat-field.

On June 5th, 1895, I again came across the Yellow Wagtails, when visiting Lough Mask in company of my friend Mr. R.J. Ussher. Landing on some islands on the western side of the lake, opposite Cushlough, we met two pairs, evidently having nests from the anxiety they evinced while we were exploring the islands; and later in the day, when landing at the Cong end of the lake, we saw a fine male on the rocky shore. The next morning, when proceeding from Cong across Lough Corrib to Currarevagh, Mr. H. Hodgson's place, we met a pair on an island about halfway across the lake; and two days after Mr. Ussher saw two pairs on islands lower down the lake towards Oughterarde, thus showing that the birds were widely distributed along the shores and islands of these two lakes. It is very strange and impossible to explain why these birds should be restricted to these four lakes, while no trace of them in the breeding season is to be found on other lakes throughout the island which are apparently as well suited in every respect.

Mr. R.J. Ussher, who has on two or three occasions thoroughly explored Lough Erne and its islands, has neither met with nor obtained any intelligence of the bird there; nor in his explorations of Lough Ree, on the Upper Shannon, has he come across it. When visiting the Donegal lakes, those of Roscommon, and the midland counties, no trace of it has been found. Again last summer, when visiting in his company that beautiful lake near Sligo, Lough Gill, and Lough Melvin near Bundoran, we neither saw nor heard anything of this bird. And although I have often explored that fine sheet of water in North Mayo, "Lough Conn," with its companion lake Cullen, the bird has neither come under my notice, nor that of several of my friends who fish the lake every season in May and June, and who are well acquainted with the Yellow Wagtail in England. If it frequented the shores or islands of the lake it could not long elude the notice of those so well acquainted with the bird in its English haunts.

As the Grey Wagtail, M. melanope, is commonly known in Ireland as the "Yellow Wagtail," many mistakes are made in confusing the two species, and I have often been told of the Yellow Wagtail nesting in certain localities; but on further enquiry as to where the nests were found, the description of the sites always proved the nests to be those of the Grey Wagtail.

Addendum.—Last June my friend Mr. R.J. Ussher, when exploring the lower end of Lough Corrib between Oughterarde and Galway, met this bird distributed amongst the islands, showing that its haunts were all about the lake, and extended through the three lakes Carra, Mask, and Corrib without break.—R.W.

  1. Thompson (1849)—The Natural History of Ireland, vol. 1, p. 221 (Wikisource-ed.)
  2. Thompson (1851)—The Natural History of Ireland, vol. 3, p. 437 (Wikisource-ed.)

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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