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7 Wonderful Wildlife Spots in Ireland

Posted on Sep 22, 2015 by Duncan Warner

Wildlife spots in Ireland may not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the Emerald Isle.

Yet, there’s an incredible wealth of wildlife to see across Ireland’s dramatic coastline and wilderness.

However, in all of the diversity of wildlife, you won’t find any snakes! We can guarantee that… St Patrick is credited with banishing the serpents from Ireland,  though in reality there were probably never any snakes here due to the harsh Irish climate. Read on to discover our great wildlife spots in Ireland!

Here are our favourite places – 7 Wonderful Wildlife Spots in Ireland:

1. For Birdwatching:  Saltee Islands & Wexford Nature Reserve

Birdwatching Saltee Islands

The Saltee Islands are one of the most diverse and off the beaten path birdwatching regions of Ireland. Photo credit: RTE

The Wexford Nature Reserve is a winter destination for thousands of Greenland’s white fronted geese. The first geese arrived in 1910 and now three-fourths of the world’s population have nesting sites in Ireland. Fun fact: the Guinness Book of Records was conceived in the area in 1951 when the Chairman of the Guinness Brewery was hunting game birds. Missing a shot at a golden plover, he wondered if it was the fastest game bird in Europe. He couldn’t find a reference book that answered the question – so in 1954 he created his own. Thus, the Guinness Book of Records was born.

The privately owned Saltee Islands off the southern shores of Wexford, are widely recognised as one of the best seabird sanctuaries in Europe – and even the world. Hike around these rugged and deserted islands for the chance to spot over 220 species of birds, including the adorably iconic puffin! While you’re there, make a pilgrimage to the throne of the late Prince Michael the First – the Saltee Island’s royalty!

Would you like to explore the the Saltee Islands & the Southeast? Check out our self drive, Ireland’s Ancient East. 

2. For Marine Life: The Wild Atlantic Way, the longest coastal touring route in the world

Humpback Whale Wild Atlantic Way

Amazing shot of a humpback whale along the Wild Atlantic Way in summer! (©Nick Massett, RTE)

One of the best wildlife spots in Ireland, the 2,500 km Wild Atlantic Way is balcony for whale and dolphin watching. The Shannon Estuary shelters one of only four bottlenose dolphin populations in Europe. The killer whale, the dolphin’s cousin, is a frequent visitor.

Baleen whales prefer the vastness of the sea, but follow shoals of fish so close to our shoreline they can be viewed from boats, hiking, and biking paths and even roadways along the coast. Minke whales arrive in spring, humpbacks in late summer and the fin whale (the fastest and second-largest whale in the world) appears is here from June to January.

Bike the best of the Wild Atlantic Way on our epic west coast bike trip. 

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3. For Seals: Ireland’s Rugged Shores & Islands

Seals in Donegal

A seal enjoying the beach in Donegal!

If you like seals (and who doesn’t!?), there are ample opportunities to see them all along the Wild Atlantic Way. The best way to see Irish seals in their natural habitat is by kayaking or island hopping. The sunny shores and the dozens of small islands of West Cork are fantastic places to catch a glimpse of the seals playing in the water or lounging on the sand.

Further up the way, the rocky coasts of the Burren National Park or the quiet and rugged shores of Sligo and Donegal are equally ideal places to meet friendly Irish grey seals and common seals.

Try Island Hopping in Cork & Kerry to see West Cork’s seal community. Or meet Sligo’s friendly seals in their natural environment by joining our Intro to Kayaking in Sligo. 

Seals Wild Atlantic Way

Enjoying a sunny day along the Wild Atlantic Way, perfect wildlife spots in Ireland!

4. For Puffins (and other seabirds): Northern Ireland’s Rathlin Island 

Seabirds on Rathlin Island

Birdwatching for seabirds around Rathlin Island.

A bird-watcher’s paradise, the dramatic white cliffs of Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island, shelter bird nesting sites and first flights of gannets, guillemots, auks, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars. For most people though, the star of Rathlin Island are the adorable puffins! Every year, thousands of puffins return in May for breeding season.

The seabird centre in Rathlin Island’s old lighthouse draws the birdwatchers from around the world searching for new sightings of unusual birds, like the rare red-legged chough.

From a historical context, Scotland’s famed King Robert the Bruce once hid in one of its caves. Here, he watched a spider climb and fall several times before eventually succeeding. Taking this as a ‘sign,’ he returned to Scotland and successfully defeated the English in battle in 1314. Though you won’t find any Scottish kings, Rathlin Island’s shores, caves, and hills are the perfect place to hike and explore while spotting wildlife!

Visit the puffins and other birds on Rathlin Island on our new Northern Ireland family adventure, Giants, Myths and Legends

5. For Puffins & Gannets: Skellig Island, off the Ring of Kerry 

Puffins on Skellig Islands

Puffins on Skellig Islands – the inspiration behind the porgs of Star Wars!

The remote Skellig Islands off the coast of Kerry are the ultimate island hopping adventure in Ireland. Rising 714 feet out of the ocean of Skellig Island, the famous beehive huts are reached by climbing 600 steps carved by monks into the stone face of the island rock over a thousand years ago.

For animal lovers looking for wildlife spots in Ireland, it’s a puffin’s paradise, shared by gannets, kittiwakes and seals. A storm petrel aptly named ‘Stormy’, one of Europe’s smallest seabirds, lived on Skellig Rock long enough to earn inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. Wearing the same ID ring, he made an annual return journey of 6,214 miles each way for 26 years!

For Star Wars fans, the islands have been used as filming sites in both the 2015 and 2017 Star Wars films, featuring as Luke Skywalker’s island hideaway. Fun fact: there were so many puffins wandering around the island constantly photobombing the filming that Star Wars creative teams had to find a role for them in the film! Thought those little porg birds were pretty cute? They’re digitally created creatures based on the photobombing puffins!

Visit the islands with us on our exciting Island Hopping in Cork and Kerry. For families, check out our new family itinerary, Legends of the Southwest.

Skellig island birdwatching

Thousands of seabirds make their home on the Skellig Islands.

6. For Golden Eagles & Red Deer: Glenveagh National Park in Co Donegal 

Deer in Ireland

A deer at sunset sporting an impressive set of antlers. Photo credit: RTE

Glenveagh National Park became a vast and desolate wilderness after the famine in 1861 when 244 tenants were evicted to clear the land. Today, it is one of the best wildlife Spots in Ireland as this remote region is home to one of the largest herd of red deer in Ireland.

In 2000, the golden eagle was reintroduced to Ireland in Glenveagh National Park, an animal which had became extinct in the wild 100 years before. ‘Red listed’ because of their small breeding numbers, there are less than 10,000 pairs in Europe. As of 2014, Ireland’s reintroduced pairs have seen 13 chicks fly the nest in three of the four corners of Ireland.

Visit the expansive landscapes of Glenveagh National Park and Donegal on our beloved trip, Hiking the Causeway’s Coastal Route in Northern Ireland.

7. For Native Red Deer: Kerry’s Killarney National Park

Killarney Red Deer

Red Deer exploring Killarney National Park.

Red deer are Ireland’s only native deer species to Ireland, though they were nearly hunted to extinction by the late 1800s. In fact, by the mid to late 1800s, the only significant population was in the woodlands of Killarney, as local earls kept hunting estates there. Unfortunately, the introduction of non-native sika deer further decreased their population due to competition for the same habitat. Through preservation efforts, the red deer have made a significant recovery in Killarney and beyond.

Visit Killarney in the spring to see the new calves, or in the fall (generally mid October) during rutting season. However, you should be able to spot the red deer year round in most cases!

Explore wildlife spots in Ireland’s Killarney National Park and more on our invigorating Hiking the Mountains of the Ring of Kerry trip

Witness some of Ireland’s most fascinating wildlife spots in Ireland on our trips below!

Trip Date Name Price Availability Book
13th Jul - 19th Jul 2019 Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry €1,7952 place(s) leftBook Now
27th Jul - 2nd Aug 2019 Hiking - Connemara to the Cliffs of Moher €1,7956 place(s) leftBook Now
24th Aug - 30th Aug 2019 Hiking and Island Hopping Cork and Kerry €1,7951 place(s) leftBook Now
14th Sep - 20th Sep 2019 Hiking - The Causeway Coastal Route & Donegal €1,7104 place(s) leftBook Now
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About the author

Duncan Warner

Working in the outdoors for the last ten years, Duncan is passionate about hiking, biking and kayaking. As Wilderness Ireland's Head of Guides & Training, Duncan loves nothing more than to show off Ireland's beautiful landscapes, find the best local pubs and traditional Irish music sessions, and tell its fascinating stories and legends to visitors.

Read more articles by Duncan | View Duncan's Profile

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