Portrush is home to many different types of birds which use the area as breeding grounds. This is important for the natural landscape of the area as, with more biodiversity the land will be more adaptable and productive. In Northern Ireland, we rely heavily on our land for many purposes such as tourism, farming, sport, relaxation and entertainment. It is also important to provide an environment which suits coastal birds to use as breeding grounds so that their species can continue.
In the spring, we can see many types of birds returning to Portrush after migrating to warmer climates during the winter. The kestrel is one of the first to return and is one of the more common birds of prey found in Portrush. It is found in the grassier areas bordering Portrush and above the grasses in the sand dunes as it feeds on field voles, mice and shrews. The kestrel can be identified by its ability to hover, which it can do for longer and much better than the other falcons. Similarly the slightly larger buzzard has recently come back from being ‘critically endangered’ over the last 20 years and eats prey such as rabbits and other smaller birds. It is more easily identified from its call of “mew”. Other birds of prey found in Portrush include the sparrowhawk and the merlin, the latter being Britain’s smallest bird of prey.
The most common type of bird to be found in Portrush is the gull. There are eight types of gull in Northern Ireland and four of these are commonly seen in Portrush. The black-headed gull was rare to spot inland over 100 years ago, but now they are the most common gull you can see in gardens. The black-headed gulls lose their black (which are actually brown) heads through the winter months and replace it with a small black spot behind the eye. This makes them look very like the Common gull, but the difference is that the Black-headed gull has red legs while the common gull has yellow legs. The other larger gulls are the herring and black-backed gulls.
A bird that may be mistaken for a gull but is actually one of our cliff-nesting birds is the kittiwake, named for its call which sounds much the same. The Gannet may also be spotted, with its black wing tips and yellow heads. It is a rather large bird which is very well adapted to fishing. It can glide very low over the sea until it sees its prey, when it will quickly climb in height before shooting back down to catch its prey up to speeds of 100 km/h from up to 30 metres high! To help with this, it has cushioning air pockets on its face and chest and eyes placed in a way which provides binocular vision to help it accurately gauge distance when it is diving for prey. There are also other coastal birds visible from Portrush, such as the razorbill and the cormorant.