Species that embrace winter on the Causeway Coast

Fox Cub spotted at Innisfree Farm near the Giant's Causeway

With temperatures falling and darks nights returning, winter is very much on the horizon. While many insects and wildlife will bed down for winter, seeking out sheltered spots to hibernate until the warmer weather returns, there are still a number of birds and animals to look out for if you’re exploring the Causeway Coast this season.


So what wildlife are still venturing around the Causeway Coast as we approach hibernation season?  As the cold season closes in the ranger team persevere with their conservation projects and work tirelessly to ensure the UNESCO World Heritage is an attractive winter destination for wildlife. Dr Cliff Henry, Area Ranger at the National Trust’s North Coast properties gives us the lowdown on some of the species that can be spotted at this time of year at the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede.

Curlew

Look closely and you will spot the Curlew bird which returns to the Giant's Causeway each year
Curlew bird which returns to the Giant's Causeway each year
Look closely and you will spot the Curlew bird which returns to the Giant's Causeway each year


Curlews fly to coastal areas after breeding in damp pastures and are regular winter visitors to the Causeway However, the Curlew population is in decline and the extinction threat for these long-billed birds is a growing concern. Sadly, there has been a 97% decline in the population of this wading bird in Ireland since the 1980s*. Dr Cliff has identified one lonely Curlew who has ‘overwintered’ at the Giant’s Causeway every year since he began working at the site in 2010.

Oystercatcher

A small flock of Osytercatchers take to the skies on the Causeway Coast
A small flock of Osytercatchers take to the skies on the Causeway Coast
A small flock of Osytercatchers take to the skies on the Causeway Coast

Another large, long-billed bird species is the Oystercatcher. These wading birds are easy to identify with black and white bodies and orange beaks. Flocks of up to 30 sometimes congregate in the fields above the cliffs at the Giant’s Causeway. Oystercatchers do not catch oysters as their name suggests but rather mussels, cockles and worms.

 

Snowbunting


Snowbunting are medium-sized, full-bodied songbirds with small conical bills. The snow bunting is a sparrow-sized bird that breeds in the Arctic (from Scandinavia to Canada), and winters in the UK, mainly around the coast. They are black and white during the summer, but become buffy and streaky in the winter. Dr Cliff reports that very often you can get to within a few feet of a Snowbunting before they fly away. 

Linnet

Linnets thrive with extra feeding over winter
Linnets thrive with extra feeding over winter
Linnets thrive with extra feeding over winter

At this time of year large flocks of Linnets can be spotted in undulating flight over the cliffs at the Giant’s Causeway. Traditionally associated with farmland they settle on stubble fields along the coastline; their diet is mostly seeds from weeds which they forage on the ground or in low-lying bushes. Linnets are small, slim birds with a dark brown upper body and a paler brown under-belly and a white throat.

Foxes

Fox cub spotted enjoying the winter sun
Fox cub spotted enjoying the winter sun
Fox cub spotted enjoying the winter sun


Foxes do not hibernate in the winter. They produce a heavier coat that will protect them in the cold weather. They are adaptable animals and are able to find food in many different habitats. This highly adaptable omnivore can be spotted around the Causeway Coast this winter – they love a refreshing winter walk as much we do, but usually venture out a dusk and dawn.

If you're out and about exploring the Causeway Coast, please share your pictures with us! Let us in on how you spent your day or maybe some of the wonderful wildlife that made an appearance. Tag us on Facebook @carrickaredeNationalTrust or @GiantsCausewayNationalTrust

Or if Instagram is more your thing, tag us on @giantscausewaynt or @ntcarrickarede

We look forward to seeing them!