Mooney Goes Wild, Sunday February 18th 2018

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Caring For Wild Animals

Please note that many species of mammals, birds, invertebrates etc... are protected under law and that, even with the best of intentions, only someone holding a relevant licence from the National Parks & Wildlife Service should attempt the care of these animals.  For full details, please click here to read the NPWS Checklist of protected & rare species in Ireland.  If you are concerned about a wild animal, please contact your local wildlife ranger - click here for details.

Events & Listings

Click here for a full list of events taking place around the country, and movies currently on release, which might be of interest to wildlife lovers!

On Mooney Goes Wild tonight...

No two drummers are ever the same in the world of Woodpeckers - we discover their sophisticated art of rolls, strokes and rhythms.  Professor Josep Call from the University of St. Andrews tells us about Wikie the talking Whale.  And Terry Flanagan reports on some frisky swan activity on Lough Ennell...  Your panel tonight: Richard Collins, Eanna ni Lamhna and Niall Hatch...

Woodpeckers' Talking Drums

We know that many birds make specific calls or songs which allow them to identify individuals, and separate them from others nearby - for example, female zebra finches can identify their mates, and king penguin chicks can pick out their parents amid thousands of birds in a colony.

From left: A Great Spotted Woodpecker (photo: Dick Coombes / BirdWatch Ireland), Richard Collins, Eanna ni Lamhna and Niall Hatch

Now, new research shows that great spotted woodpeckers communicate with "talking drums", which can identify individual birds from others in the locality.  Researchers in Poland recorded the sounds of 41 woodpeckers drumming against dead tree trunks and branches.  To tell us more, we're joined in studio by our panel of Niall Hatch, Development Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, zoologist Dr. Richard Collins and entomologist Eanna ni Lamhna...

To read the paper 'Vocal individuality in drumming in great spotted woodpecker—A biological perspective and implications for conservation', as discussed by Derek and the panel, click here.

Wikie The Talking Whale

If someone asked you what separates humans from other animals, one of the first things that would probably come to mind is language.  It is so fundamental to human life that it's hard to imagine what life would be like without it.  Our vocal cords can of course produce a large number of sounds, and tens of thousands of distinct words.  Animals and birds have entirely different biological structures, which impact the way they form sounds. 

Talking birds can mimic the spoken language of humans.  But a new experiment has shown that something else can join the short list of creatures capable to mimicking human speech, and the implications are far-reaching.

Wikie the Killer Whale, lives in an aquarium in southern France, and has been taught to copy human words through her blowhole.  Josep Call is Professor in Evolutionary Origins of Mind at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and a co-author of the study; he joins us this evening from the University to tell us more...

Left: Wikie (photo: © Marineland); right: Professor Josep Call

For more information about Wikie and Professor Call's work, click here, and to read the paper 'Imitation of novel conspecific and human speech sounds in the killer whale (Orcinus orca)', click here.

To read Dr. Richard Collins' article for the Examiner newspaper, in which he discusses the Australian research on brown thornbills and currawongs, and the Japanese research into Japanese tits, as mentioned in the discussion, click here.

The Swans Of Lough Ennell

About 15,000 Whooper swans overwinter in Ireland every year.  Having spent the summer in Iceland they make the journey south in October to see out the winter months here.  One of our most important sites for Whoopers is Lough Ennell in Co Westmeath, which is a well known haven for all kinds of birds, from waders to wildfowl, and the native Mute swan is present there all year round.  

Left: one of the swans on Lough Ennell; right: Terry Flanagan (l) with Derry Kilroy (r)

Earlier this week Terry Flanagan headed off to the "Lakes County", as Co. Westmeath is known, and met up with Derry Kilroy, who lives on the edge of the lake and who has been keeping a close eye on ALL the swans there...

If you'd like to learn more about the Whooper Swan, why not listen back to this Mooney Goes Wild documentary: The Whooper Swan - From Iceland To Ireland.  Professor John O'Halloran is an ornithologist at UCC.  In this documentary, John focuses on the Whooper swan, which is one of three species of swan that occur in Ireland along with the Mute Swan and the Bewick's swan.  The documentary was produced by Derek Mooney.  Click here to download The Whooper Swan - From Iceland To Ireland.

Hedgerows: It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here.

UPDATE: February 29th 2016 - Press Release From BirdWatch Ireland:

Putting the record straight: Dates for burning and hedge-cutting have NOT changed

BirdWatch Ireland, Ireland’s largest conservation charity, is very concerned about misinformation that is currently circulating regarding the dates within which the burning of vegetation and cutting of hedges is permitted.  It would like to remind landowners that all burning and cutting must cease on 29th February this year and that burning and cutting remains prohibited from 1st March to 31st August.

Despite attempts by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys T.D., to change the laws regulating these dates by introducing the Heritage Bill 2016 earlier this year, it is important to note that the proposed date changes were ultimately NOT made.  This is because the bill failed to pass through both houses of the Oireachtas before the recent dissolution of the Dáil in advance of the general election.

The laws in place governing the dates for hedge-cutting and upland burning therefore remain unchanged. The period within which cutting and burning is prohibited are set down in Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended in 2000), which states that:

(a) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy, during the period beginning on the 1st day of March and ending on the 31st day of August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.
(b) It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch during the period mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection (above).

The existing law provides exemptions for road safety and other circumstances and should be read carefully to ensure compliance.

Section 40 of the Wildlife Act exists to protect nesting birds. Many of our upland bird species are in decline and are in danger of extinction in Ireland; amongst them is the Curlew, which has declined by 80%. Many birds which nest in hedgerows into August are also in serious decline, including the endangered Yellowhammer. The changes to the cutting and burning dates which had been proposed in the now-defunct Heritage Bill 2016 would have caused serious impacts to these birds. A petition launched by BirdWatch Ireland in conjunction with several other national conservation organisations to stop these changes attracted more than 16,200 signatures and rising.

BirdWatch Ireland would also like to advise members of the public that if they see hedges being cut or fires in the uplands on or after 1st March, such activity could be illegal.  In such cases, we would encourage people to contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service ( to report such activity.

BirdWatch Ireland warmly welcomes the demise of the Heritage Bill 2016 and sincerely hopes that any future administration will consider the importance of Ireland’s natural heritage and will not attempt to reintroduce such a flawed and damaging piece of legislation.

To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.


Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild.

If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit


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Presenter: Derek Mooney


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