The Burren National Park hosts a wide range of mammals. Most of the mammal life of the Park is nocturnal in habit but Hares, Foxes and Pigmy Shrews may be encountered during daytime. In addition, Stoats may be seen weaving their way in and out of stone walls in search of prey. The elusive and rare Pine Marten has always had a stronghold in the Burren, in recent years however it has made a comeback throughout he country. They can sometimes be seen during the day but are shy creatures and extremely hard to view.
Among the seven species of bats that inhabit the Park is the Lesser Horseshoe Bat, a species that is endangered in an international context. This bat is confined in its distribution to the western counties of Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry and west Cork. The small caves in the Park provide hibernation sites for this threatened species.
Although not strictly a wild animal, the Feral Goat has come to be associated with the Burren landscape. There is a herd that frequents the Park, they roam freely over the park. On sunny days, they can be seen high up on the mountain and in bad weather. they take shelter in the woodlands and hazel scrub.
Some other species that may be found in the Park are the Field Mouse, Brown Rat, Bank Vole, Rabbit, Red Squirrel, Badger, Otter and Mink. The Mink was introduced into the Irish countryside as escapees from fur farms.
The nature of the terrain and the traditional farming methods employed in the area have left the Burren relatively unspoilt and undeveloped, except on the deeper glacial till soils, there has been little disturbance and intensification of the region. This has resulted in undisturbed habitats for animal and bird life to thrive.
Below is a list of the mammals of the Burren National Park:
|Bank Vole||Vol bruaigh||Clethrionomys glareolus|
|Brown Rat||Francach Donn||Rattus norvegicus|
|Feral Goat||Gabhar Fia||Capra hircus|
|Irish (Mountain) Hare||Giorra||Lepus timidus hibernicus|
|Irish Stoat||Easóg||Mustela erminea hibernica|
|Mink||Minc Mheiriceánach||Mustela vison|
|Otter||Madra Uisce||Lutra lutra|
|Pine Marten||Cat Crainn||Martes martes|
|Pygmy Shrew||Dallóg Fhraoigh||Sorex minutus|
|Red Fox||Sionnach/Madra Rua||Vulpes vulpes|
|Red Squirrel||Iora Rua||Sciurus vulgaris|
|Wood Mouse||Luch Fhéir||Apodemus sylvaticus|
|Brown Long-eared Bat||Ialtóg Chluasach||Plecotus auritus|
|Common Pipistrelle||Ialtóg fheaserach||Pipistrellus pipistrellus|
|Daubenton’s bat||Ialtóg Dhaubenton||Myotis daubentoni|
|Leisler’s Bat||Ialtóg Leisler||Nyctalus leisleri|
|Lesser Horseshoe Bat||crú-ialtóg bheag||Rhinolophus hipposideros|
|Natterers Bat||Ialtóg Natterer||Myotis nattereri|
|Soprano Pipistrelle||Ialtóg Fheaserach Sopránach||Pipistrellus pygmaeus|
|Whiskered Bat||Ialtóg Ghiobach||Myotis mystacinus|
Description: The Badger is part of the weasel family (the Mustelidae). The Badger’s closest relatives are Stoats, Pine Martens, Otters and other members of the weasel family. A male Badger is called a boar, the female is called a sow and young Badgers are cubs.
Their front legs are well-developed and the paws have long strong claws adapted for digging.
Life expectancy: Up to 14 years
Behaviour: Badgers live in a sett, which can be extensive with many entrances, tunnels and chambers or simply consisting of just one or a small number of tunnels and chambers. Where food supplies are good, this species lives socially in groups which can be quite large (a dozen or more animals). Badgers are largely nocturnal, though they are occasionally active during the day in isolated areas. In winter, Badgers do not hibernate, but in cold weather they may spend several days or even longer underground, living on their fat reserves.
Reproduction: Most Badger cubs are born in and around February and the usual litter size is 2-3. A cubs first steps outside the sett are around late April or early May.
Diet: Earthworms, insects, larvae, small mammals, carrion, fruits, nuts, cereals, roots, bulbs and tubers.
Other facts: Badgers have an excellent sense of hearing and smell but don’t have very good eyesight.
- Annex III of the Bern Convention
- Protected by Wildlife Acts (1976 & 2000)
Description: A rodent introduced to Ireland in the early 1960’s, it is our only vole. Their head is short and round with a blunt nose and their eyes and ears are small. The fur is chestnut brown on the top and grey underneeth.
Habitat: They inhabit woodlands with a thick shrub layer and prefer areas with a thick ground cover.
Life expectancy: About 20 months.
Behaviour: They are active day and night but most active at dawn and dusk.
Reproduction: They can produce a litter every 4 weeks in the summer if conditions are good.
Diet: Largely vegetarian eating berries, bulbs, fruit, seeds, fungi, leaves of woody plants, grasses, but also invertebrates,larvae, snails and earthworms.
Other facts: Bank Voles leave a clean-edged hole in hazelnuts, while mice leave a jagged edge and squirrels split them in half.
They emit a small range of squeaks and chattering and the mother communicates with her young in ultrasound.
Description: Feral goats are members of the Bovidae family which include other ruminants such as sheep and cattle. They descend from domestic populations brought to Ireland around 4,000 years ago. The feral populations were created when domestic goats escaped into the wild remote areas. Today domesticated individuals are still escaping and joining these feral herds. Male goats are called Billies, females are called Nannies and young are called Kids. The fur coat of the feral goat is thick and can come in a variety of colours white, grey, black and brown. Adult males (50 – 75kg) are bigger than adult females (35 – 60kg), both sexes have horns, male horns are larger than females, which can grow up to half a metre in length. The horns of a feral goat grow throughout their life, with growth slowing over winter. This slowdown in the growth of the horns in winter leave distinctive growth marks on the horns which can help determine the age of an individual. Goats born from parents with older lineages will typically have horns swept backwards in shape. Feral goats are agile climbers and are assisted by their specially adapted hooves which have spongy pads and a thick layer of skin on their front knees.
Life expectancy: up to 8 years.
Behaviour: Each herd is typically made up of twelve or more females led by an older dominant female. Males occur in smaller groups for most of the year, joining a female herd during the rutting season. Female herds are the only permanent social group made up of female relatives and male kids which will stay in the herd for the first year. The female herd occupy large feeding territories which often overlap with other herds allowing mixing of the population. During periods of food shortage a large temporary group of up to one hundred individual goats can occur. During adverse weather goats will take shelter in scrub, woodland and caves.
Reproduction: The goat rutting season occurs from August to December peaking in October. During the rut male goats become more aggressive and territorial. Males develop a strong musky smell at this time which they release from the scent glands on their feet, horns and tail. Males will often cover themselves in urine to enhance the musky odour. Males display their strength to other males by shaking their heads, lowering their horns and if necessary by fighting. Males will rear up onto their hind legs to deliver a stronger head blow to a competing male. Males will stay close to females who are reaching the peak in their fertility, fending off other males that encroach into their territory. Most females start to breed at a year old. Gestation lasts for about five months with most young born between February and April.
Diet: Goats are browsers feeding on a variety of vegetation depending on the time of year. They browse on grasses, sedges and rushes in the summer time switching to heathers, gorse and other shrubs in winter.
Conservation Status: None.
Feral Goats in the Burren National Park: Traditionally cattle and sheep farming made up the main animal stock in the Burren. Farms also kept small numbers of pigs, fowl and goats. The feral goats found within the Burren National Park are descended from escaped domestic goats which have been farmed in the Burren for at least 4,000 years. Feral goats which are related to these Ancient European breeds are often referred to as the Old Irish Goat. The status of the Old Irish Goat within the feral population of the Burren National Park is unknown. A small study on feral goats in the wider Burren has shown that less than ten per cent of goats surveyed were of an Old Irish Goat lineage. Hunting and the crossbreeding of improved goats (particularly the Swiss mountain goat introduced into the Burren in the last century) with the Old Irish Goat have had an impact on the genetic pool of this ancient goat species.
Description: Hedgehogs are small mammals which can swim, climb walls and can run at speeds up to 7km/hr. The male is called a boar, the female a sow and the young are hoglets. Their body is covered by a coat of over 6,000 quills, which are hard and sharpon the outside and are filled with air pockets for insulation.
Life expectancy: Average of 3-4 years.
Behaviour: Hedgehogs are solitary animals which hibernate in winter. They curl into a prickly ball for defence when attacked. They are nocturnal. During the day they sleep in nests made of grass and leaves, or in small burrows under shrubs, tree logs or rocks.
Reproduction: 4-5 offspring per year and the young are born without quills.
At 4-5 weeks old they leave their mother and their nest.
Diet: Almost any invertebrate and will also eat eggs, small mammals, carrion and berries.
Other facts: While on the hunt, they rely upon their senses of hearing and smell because their eyesight is weak. They are mildly intolerant to lactose so don’t feed them milk.
Irish Mountain Hare
Lepus timidus hibernicus
Description: The Mountain Hare has long slender ears and is much larger than the Rabbit. Its coat is reddish-brown in summer and grey-brown in winter and it moults twice a year. Their eyes are large and set in the sides of their head so they have nearly 360 degree vision.
Life expectancy: Mortality in hares is high, the maximum age they can reach is about 9 years.
Behaviour: They are mainly nocturnal, but can be active throughout the day especially in spring. Where food supply is ample hares can often be seen in large groups, when this occurs hierarchy is decided on body size. When not foraging hares rest in nests called forms.
Reproduction: In good conditions females produce two or three litters a year and the litter size is usually 2-3. The young are called leverets.
Diet: Herbivores feeding mainly on grasses, heathers, sedges and herbs but will also browse young shoots of trees. The hare eats its food twice in order to get all the nutrients out of it. Soft faeces produced during the day are re-eaten and excreted as hard pellets.
They are good at detecting moving objects but poor if the objects are stationary.
Their sense of smell is well developed and their hearing extremely good.
They are very fast and can reach speeds of up to 60km/hr and change direction suddenly to outwit their predators.
Fights in the breeding season may involve boxing with the fore-legs or kicking with the hind-legs.
- Annex V – Habitats Directive
- Annex III – Bern Convention
- Internationally Important – Red Data Book
- Protected by Wildlife Acts (1976 & 2000)
Description: Slim-bodied, with a short, black tipped tail and chestnut brown on top with a sharp division separating the cream underparts. Widespread throughout in both the uplands and lowlands of Ireland. The Stoat is sometimes mistaken for its close relative, the Weasel but there are no Weasels in the wild in Ireland.
Life expectancy: average 1-1.5 years. Can live up to 7 years
Behaviour: The Stoat is active by day or night but when it does rest, it does so in a hollow tree, a rock crevice, under a log or stone wall, or a burrow from one of its prey victims. The size of the territory depends on the type of habitat and the abundance of prey. The alert, inquisitive Stoat is a fierce predator. They can reach speeds of up to 28km/hr. They prefer areas with good cover and will keep to walls, hedges or fences where possible. A Stoat tracks down its prey by scent, being able to locate a victim from a great distance. It follows a trail relentlessly, and once in pursuit, the prey has little chance of escape. The victim is killed by pouncing on it and biting deeply into the back of the neck near the base of the skull. A stoat will often perform strange antics as part of its hunting strategy. It will approach a group of birds or rabbits and then jump around, pretending to ignore the animals who are attracted to this odd performance and edge nearer to get a better look! The stoat then suddenly pounces on the nearest member of its audience!
Reproduction: Stoats are solitary animals and only socialise with each other in the breeding season. Mating occurs in mid-August, but the fertilised eggs within the female do not begin developing until up to 10 months later, so that the female does not give birth until the following spring. This is called delayed implantation. Six or more, sometimes up to twelve, babies (kittens) are born in a hidden nest, often in an old Rabbit burrow, lined with fur. After the young have left the den, the family stays together for some time, hunting and playing together. The mother defends her family fiercely.
Diet: The Stoat is a true carnivore, and feeds mainly on rabbits and other small mammals. Also birds, eggs, earthworms, large insects and carrion.
Habitat: Woods, farmland, uplands, moorlands, marshes, sand dunes and hedgerows.
Other facts: The Stoat’s eyesight has a resolution below that of humans, though its night vision is better than ours.
Description: The Mink is a medium-sized mustelid (weasel family). They are usually black or dark brown, sometimes with a white patch under the chin. They are good swimmers with partially webbed feet and can submerge for up to 20 seconds.
Life expectancy: Up to 4 years.
Behaviour: Mink are solitary animals that are never far from a river or wetland. They rarely dig, prefering to use rabbit burrows, vacant dens or old buildings as shelters. They use sensitive whiskers and good eyesight underwater to detect prey. They are intollerant of other Mink in their area, and are very vocal around other Mink using a range of squeaks, squeals and chuckles.
Reproduction: The young (kits) are born in April or May; litter size is usually 3-5 kits.
Diet: Primarily aquatic carnivores, they will take slow moving fish, crayfish, perch and eels, but are opportunists and will also take water fowl, duck, rabbits, rats, mice, shrews, frogs and insects.
Habitat: Rivers, streams, lakes, canals and the coast and offshore islands.
Other facts: Mink were first introduced to Ireland in fur farms in 1951 and were living wild by 1961.
Description: Otters are members of the weasel family (the Mustelidae) and are related to Stoats, Pine Marten, American Mink and Badgers. They are semi-aquatic fish-eating mammals with webbed feet.
Life expectancy: up to 5 years.
Behaviour: They live in a holt or couch and develop a strong social bond within the family. A male Otter is a dog, a female a bitch, and young are whelps or pups. Otters are mainly solitary and nocturnal animals, they hunt by sight and touch, their whiskers are very sensitive and pick up vibrations of nearby fish. Since an otter’s vision underwater is somewhat poor their sensitive whiskers are even more important to their hunting skills. They mark their territory with droppings called spraints that have a very distinctive odour that resembles fresh mown hay.
Otters are highly intelligent and quite playful, some of their fun activities include creating slides into rivers and wrestling with each other.
Reproduction: The average litter size is 2-3.
Diet: Although fish make up the main portion of their diet, otters eat different foods during different seasons, including birds, small mammals, invertebrates and frogs.
Other facts: They are natural swimmers and have valve-like skin flaps that cover their ears and nostrils, which allow them to dive underwater for up to four minutes. Otters are the only aquatic mammals that have fur instead of blubber and they must groom their coats constantly to keep them from becoming matted.
Otters are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.
- Annex II & IV of Habitats Directive
- Annex II of the Bern Convention
- Protected by Wildlife Acts (1976 & 2000)
Description: Pine Martens are the size of an ordinary domestic cat, with a long body, round ears (with pale edges), chestnut-brown fur and a bushy tail with a distinctive creamy-yellow throat. Of the mustelids, they are the only ones that have semi-retractable claws. They sleep in dens hidden in a crevice among rocks or in hollows under tree roots and sometimes in roof spaces in buildings.
Life expectancy: They may reach 10 years or more in the wild.
Behaviour: Males and females (both) have two kinds of scent glands, anal and abdominal. A Pine Marten rubs its belly over a log/vegetation via the abdominal glands to mark off an area to call its own. The Pine Marten is an excellent climber and often hunts in the tree tops. Pine Martens are active throughout the winter.
Reproduction: Breed once a year, a litter of about 3 kits is born in late March or April and the family stays together until they are six months old.
Diet: They are omnivores and their diet consists mainly of small mammals (voles, squirrels), birds, insects, frogs, and carrion, and they supplement this with eggs and berries especially ivy berries in winter.
Habitat: They live in woodlands, coniferous and broadleaf and sometimes on rocky moorland and hillsides.
Other facts: Young Pine Martens are blind for the first 36 days, deaf and toothless, and after 12 to 16 weeks they leave their den for good.
The Pine Marten is mainly nocturnal, rarely seen in daylight. They hunt through the night and especially at dusk. It usually hunts alone. A very agile predator, it can climb trees easily, it is one of the few predators agile enough to catch a squirrel. Pine Martens, however, obtain most of their food on the ground.
Description: The Pygmy Shrew is tiny and is our smallest mammal (weighing no more than 6 grams) and it has the shortest lifespan. It has a pointed flexible snout, brown fur that is paler on the belly, long whiskers, small eyes and short ears. They are well equipped with scent glands used to mark their territory. They are usualy very noisy uttering continuous squeeks.
Life expectancy: Average of 13 months.
Behaviour: They are agile climbers, can swim and seem to scuttle around. They hunt night and day to survive and often eat their droppings, passing the food through the gut twice. Shrews build spherical nests of grass in dense vegetation, long grass, or under rocks or logs. They are solitary creatures and are very aggressive towards each other.
Reproduction: Litters are 4-7 in size and females will reproduce 2-3 times during the summer, then die before winter. The young leave the mother at 20–25 days of age.
Diet: Opportunistic predators eating beetles, woodlice, larvae, spiders and bugs.
Habitat: Throughout the country, with population densities in Ireland ranging from 2-40/hectare.
Other facts: They loose weight during the winter, their skeleton shrinks and they also become shorter.
They must eat at least their body weight in food every day, their metabolic rate is such that they will die if they are deprived of food for about 3 hours.
Description: Red Foxes live in an earth or den, the male is called a dog and the female is a vixen.
Life expectancy: Foxes live 2 to 4 years in the wild.
Behaviour: They are solitary hunters and are largely nocturnal but can be seen during the day. They stalk their prey with stealth and patience.
Reproduction: 2-3 cubs once a year in spring.
Diet: Rodents, insects, worms, fruit, birds’, eggs and all other kinds of small animals.
Other facts: They can reach a speed of 48 km/h . Foxes have erect ears provding very good hearing and their large bushy tail is used for balance when hunting.
Description: Rodents, with a chestnut-red upper body and buff to cream underside, noticeable ear tufts and long bushy tail.
Life expectancy: Can live for up to 6 years.
Behaviour: Red Squirrels do not hibernate, they build nests called dreys high in the branches from sticks and moss. They are mainly active during the day and spend the warmer months preparing for winter by finding and hiding food. They are solitary animals and will scold intruders in their territory. They growl, screech, chirp, rattle, and buzz.
Reproduction: They produce two litters of 3-4 kittens a year, usually in March and July.
Diet: They are omnivores and will eat fruit, nuts, seeds, buds, fungi, bark, pine cones, insects, eggs, young birds, mice, other small animals and sometimes shed Deer antlers.
Habitat: Coniferous and broadleaved woodland, but they prefer conifers.
Other facts: Using their keen sense of smell, Red Squirrels can easily locate stored food even under a metre of snow. Without food the squirrels can only survive for a few days.
The evidence of Red Squirrels in a woodland is chewed pine cone ‘cores’ and split hazel nut shells.
The decline in numbers is due to fragmentation of habitat, disease and competition from the introduced american Grey Squirrel. The two species can coexist and there is no evidence of aggressive behaviour by Greys, but competition for limited food resources tends to favour the introduced animal.
Description: Sandy-brown above, white below. Large eyes and ears, long tail.
Habitat: Woodlands, fields, hedgerows, moorlands, mountain-sides, sand-dunes, scrub land, gardens
Life expectancy: Up to a year; rarely more than two years.
Behaviour: Wood Mice are nocturnal and they are very active, running and leaping kangaroo-like on their large hind feet. They climb well too and often use places such as an old bird’s nest high on a tree branch to feed on berries they have collected. A mouse digs its own system of burrows where it makes an area for storing food and a nesting chamber for the young. Several adults may live together in the same network of tunnels which have two open entrances.
Reproduction: Littersize 4 – 7 young. May produce 4 litters a year, normally 2-3. After 3 weeks, the mother forces her youngsters out of the nest and they are then on their own.
Diet: They are mainly vegetarian, eating seeds, seedlings, fruits, nuts, buds and other vegetation, but will also eat invertebrates, snails and earthworms. It is a great hoarder of seeds and nuts and packs full its underground chambers with a supply to help it survive the winter. A male mouse usually forages nightly over an area about half the size of a football pitch.
Other facts: In very cold weather wood mice sometimes go into a torpid state – almost like hibernation – and in this way they use less energy than usual, enabling them to survive food shortages.
If a Wood Mouse is caught by its tail, it can quickly shed the end of it, which may never regrow.
While foraging, the Wood Mice pick up and distribute visually conspicuous objects, such as leaves and twigs, which they then use as landmarks during exploration.
Irish Bats belong to the microchiroptera, which means ‘micro hand wing’. A wing membrane is stretched over an elongated hand with a wrist and fingers to provide the strength.
All bats in Ireland are insectivores, and each can feed on up to 3000 midges and other insects in one night.
Bats are mammals and suckle their young, and are the only mammals that fly. At birth young bats are only one third the weight of adults. The mother recognises her young by smell and sound.
In late spring female bats congregate together in a maternity roost, where they give birth and rear their young. Different species favour different roost sites, from old buildings to roof spaces or holes in bridges, buildings or trees.
In late autumn when the temperature drops and insects become scarce, bats seek out a hibernation site for the winter. This can be a cave, cellar, gap in a stone wall, bridge or tree. Bats go into a state called torpidity, where their metabolism and breathing slow down and it is not real hibernation. The temperature needs to be constant and cool so the bats don’t wake up and waste energy.
Bats are nocturnal, leaving their roost at dusk and returning at dawn. They hunt and navigate using echo-location. Bats emit a high pitched sound which bounces off their surroundings back to the bat, enabling it to map its environment and catch food.
They will not do any damage to roost sites, they don’t chew wires or make nests or leave their food around to smell.
Irish Bats are not blind, will not get stuck in your hair and do not suck blood.
All bats in Ireland are protected under the 1976 Wildlife Act and the European Habitats Directive.
We have 10 species of bats in Ireland. The Nathusius’s Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus nathusii) is the only one not found in Clare.
Lesser Horseshoe Bat
The rarest of our bats is the Lesser Horseshoe Bat. This bat is only found in west Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Galway, Mayo and Clare. This is the only Irish bat that hangs in the traditional way with wings wrapped around it. It hangs upside down in open spaces. It hibernates in caves, and needs an open entrance to fly into its roost. They warm up inside the roost in the dark before leaving and going hunting. These are predominantly a woodland species.
These roost mainly in houses and trees and feeds along hedgerows and woodland edges. They have shaggy fur with a pale belly.
Pipistrelles are the commonest of Irish bats. Until recently, they were considered one species. They commonly roost in houses in the attic or under the fascia boards. They feed in almost any habitat, even in urban gardens.
This new Pipistrelle species was discovered in the 1990’s. They roost in attics and under the fascia boards. They feed mainly around water.
The Leisler’s is our largest bat, it is approximately 5-6cm in length. It feeds around street lights, in open woodland, gardens and parklands. It roosts in tree holes, bat boxes and buildings.
Brown Long-eared Bat
Long-eared have the largest ears and quietest echo-location sounds and often catch prey by the noise the prey make themselves. They feed in woodland and roost in buildings and trees.
Daubenton’s feed over water and often take prey off the surface of the water using their feet or tail. They roost in trees, bridges and old buildings.
Natterer’s are predominantly a woodland species. They roost in tree holes, old disused building or stonework, they feed on small insects caught in flight or taken off foliage. They are very similar to the Whiskered Bat.