Irish Names for Wild Birds

The Irish language has some wonderfully descriptive words for wild birds and here are a few of the nicer ones.

Photo: quillshadow (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Irish name for the Chaffinch is ‘Rí Rua‘ or the ‘Red King’.


Photo: dingopup (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Irish name for a barn owl is ‘Scréachóg Reilige‘, which roughly translates as the Graveyard Screamer/Screecher.


Photo: Phil McIver (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Redwing is a common winter visitor to Ireland and its Irish name, ‘Deargán Sneachta‘, is suitably seasonal. It means ‘Little Red one of the Snow’.


Photo: Frans Vandewalle (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In Irish the Meadow Pipit is known as ‘Riabhóg Mhóna‘, or the ‘Little Streaked one of the Bog/Moor’.


Photo: Steve Herring (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The Irish name for the Greenfinch is ‘Glasán Darach‘, or in English, ‘Little Green one of the Oak Tree’.


Photo: bramblejungle (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Irish name for the Kestrel is ‘Pocaire Gaoithe‘, which roughly translates as ‘Wind Frolicker’.


Photo: Natural England (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The pied wagtail if often seen close to human habitation and this is reflected in some of its Irish names, ‘Glasóg na Sraide‘ or ‘Little Grey one of the Streets’ and ‘Siobháinín an Chairn Aoiligh‘ or ‘Little Siobhán of the Dung Heap’.


Photo: Stan Ashbourne (Public Domain)

The Irish name for the Bullfinch is ‘Corcrán Coille‘, or ‘Little Scarlet one of the Woods’.


Photo: Ron Knight (CC by 2.0)

The Old Irish name for the Wren is ‘Drúi donn‘ or ‘the Brown Druid’ and it has been suggested that the bird was associated with divination (source).


Photo: Francesco Veronesi (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the Irish names for the Swift is ‘Gabhlán Gaoith‘ or ‘Forked one of the Wind’.


Photo: Sue Cro (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Irish name for the Goldfinch, one of Ireland’s most colourful birds, is ‘Lasair Choille‘, which roughly translates as ‘Bright Flame of the Forest’.


Photo: RSPB

An old Irish name for a wood pigeon is ‘Ferán Eidhinn‘, or ‘Little Man of the Ivy’.


Photo: Dirk-Jan van Roest (CC BY 2.0)

The Irish name for the Skua reflects this aggressive seabird’s propensity to steal other bird’s food. It is known as ‘Meirleach Mara‘, or the ‘Outlaw of the Sea’.


Photo: JohnBWilson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The heron has numerous names in Irish including ‘Máire Fhada‘ or ‘Long Mary’ and ‘Síle na bportach‘ or ‘Sheila of the Bog’.


Photo: Kentish Plumber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Another Irish name for the Meadow Pipit, is ‘Banaltra na Cuaiche‘ or the ‘Cuckoo’s Nursemaid’. The Meadow Pipit’s nest being one of the favourite locations for Cuckoos to lay their eggs.



14 thoughts on “Irish Names for Wild Birds

  1. I was taught that corcra means “purple” – shouldn’t the bullfinch therefore be “little purple one of the woods”?

  2. Colm a chara,
    I have a poster Éanlaigh na hÉireann from a few years years ago with all the birds in a tree. If you like I could forward it on to you and compare the names as Gaeilge. It is very interesting and informative for all ages especially for schools adults. It has some of the birds playing cards, smoking a pipe etc. I think it was Conradh na Gaeilge who published it.
    I enjoyed your photos and names go raibh maith agat.

  3. Hi Colm. Could you email me about credit for the barn owl name in Irish. I have used it in a children’s story I’ve written. If you’re not OK with me using it or crediting you I will credit an Irish speaking friend instead. Will clarify when you email. Could you get back to me in the next few days if possible? I’m on a tight writing schedule.

  4. Just a quick note for you to ignore my previous message-which it seems you did. I’m getting some Irish speaking friends to help me with Irish…will acknowledge their help. But thanks for all your great work esp your tweets which are super. Lorraine.

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