Gannet Rescue Dundalk

On the 7th January 2014, just after the big storms at sea, I got a call from a Mr Serlinkas, a Lithuanean national living in Dundalk. He said that he had a large white bird stuck in his back garden for the last two days. He had tried bread but to no avail. Bird was apparently unharmed. After some discussion I concluded it must be a little egret so i brought my daughter Greta along to help handle it – injured little egret can be quite a handful!

On arrival at the small estate development in Dundalk what turned out to be a gannet was sitting on a log in a small back garden. After a careful examination it appeared to be in good health apart from being starving. So with Greta’s help i caught it, put it in a box and since the evening was mild, decided to try to feed it and release it immediately. I also noticed that the bird had a BTO metal ring.

On the way to the beach we stopped at a fishmonger and got half a dozen fillets of herring (a euro a go). At the beach the bird voraciously devoured the herring but when i tried to release
it onto the cold water, the bird was reluctant to go, so back to the house it went and into the bath (much to my long-suffering wife’s consternation), with a load of seaweed for comfort and a brick for perching. I regularly let a few inches of tepid water in and out of the bath to clear droppings and to make sure that the bird kept feathers oiled.

The following morning after another visit to the fish mongers (1kg of mixed mackerel and haddock – 20 euros) I fed the bird every hour. By evening it had more of less devoured the lot and its weight was up to 2.2 kg. The following morning I tried the last mackerel fillet on it but it declined. After checking the bird over again (only do this if you have experience of handling wild birds – a gannets bill is razor sharp along the edges and it will stab at your face with surprising power if it gets near enough), I decided it was time to go;

rehabilitating a wild bird involves balancing stress from captivity against sufficient food and care. If the bird is kept too long other stress and captivity related problems arise. It was a fine morning with sunshine and a dead calm sea when Greta and I released the bird on the 8th of January; this time the bird unhesitatingly swam out as far as the eye could see. It made two attempts at takeoff but aborted both times; possibly because its wings may have been stiff from no flight for five days, but I was reassured when i saw a gannet flying and diving far out on Dundalk bay the following day, which, given the season, would strongly suggest the same bird.

Later that day the results of the ring came back from Steve Newton – the bird had been ringed as a pullus on the Great Saltees by my old friend and mentor Oscar Merne on the 12th of June 1990. The bird was a great great grandfather or grandmother at least! I thought about this connection with Oscar and wondered if the bird remembered being handled by another bearded man all those years ago; though feisty the gannet never really had a go at me as other gannets have done. I hope it made it OK but I guess, given the ring, there is some chance we will find out ….

Breffni Martin
17 Jan 2014


Where to watch birds in Co Louth

Click here to find out about where the hot spots for birding in Co Louth are, courtesy of Birdwatch Ireland.


Media Coverage.

Sandra McKeever, Breffni Martin & Aine Walsh discuss the Louth Nature Trust on LMFM Radio with presenter Michael Reade.

The launch of the Louth Nature Trust is announced on LMFM News.


The Irish Times

Thursday, April 3, 2008Group set up to protect nesting little tern seabirds on Louth coast ELAINE KEOGH

A NEW conservation group has been formed in Co Louth and its first major project begins this month. It aims to protect nesting little terns, which are Ireland’s rarest breeding seabirds.

They spend winter along the coast of west Africa and return to Ireland in April until September.

They nest directly on beaches, which leaves their chicks and eggs vulnerable to destruction from dogs, walkers and natural predators, including crows, who can steal the eggs.

With the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Birdwatch Ireland, the new group, Louth Nature Trust Ltd, is embarking on the little tern conservation project on Baltray beach at the northern mouth of the Boyne river.

Group chairwoman Sandra McKeever said: “With a species in decline, we have a real opportunity to protect these birds. The little terns will nest again in Baltray from May through to August. Our volunteers will be on hand, monitoring the beach during the daylight hours of the three-month breeding season so as the little tern eggs and young are given their best chance of survival.”

Ms McKeever oversaw the project last year, when “we were delighted by the hatching and survival of 41 chicks, which we hope to see return in the future from Africa, where they spend the winter”. The group is seeking volunteers to help it monitor the beach from dawn until dusk over the summer months to ensure as many fledglings as possible.

The group has identified what it says are 40 “high-quality conservation sites” in Louth.

The group can be contacted at www.louthnaturetrust.org

© 2008 The Irish Times