Russian Wildfires Drive Bird Species West To Ireland

Three successive summers of devastating wildfires across central and eastern Russia have lead to the displacement of native bird species, some of which have been spotted as far west as Ireland.  That is according to the Clare Branch of Birdwatch Irelandwhich has confirmed the fourth recorded sighting of the Pallid Harrier (Circus Macrourus) on Irish shores in just over a year.

The bird was photographed in Moyasta, County Clare, on Sunday (12 August 2012). Only three previous sightings of the bird have been confirmed on Irish shores, the first being near Youghal in April 2011 with two more separate sightings in Cork and Galway this year.

The bird is categorised as “Near Threatened” due to rapidly steep population decreases globally, and breeds primarily in the steppes of Asiatic Russia, Kazakhstan and north-west China.

John Murphy, Chairperson of the Clare Branch of Birdwatch Ireland, believes the increased number of sightings of the bird throughout Western Europe is primarily driven by the displacement of the species by widespread forest and gorse fires across large areas of Russia.

“During the past 12 to 18 months, the Pallid Harrier has been found breeding in Finland, Portugal, Spain and France, which are located well beyond the species’ primary breeding grounds,” he explains. “Internationally, the Pallid Harrier is primarily threatened by the destruction and degradation of steppe grasslands through conversion to arable agriculture and the burning of vegetation. In recent years, massive wildfires exacerbated by crippling drought have destroyed millions of hectares of steppe and forest-steppe, which are the primary breeding grounds for the bird.”

August is the best time of year to spot non-native bird species visiting Irish shores as they embark on their southward migration to the Southern Hemisphere for the winter period.

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