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  • Writer's pictureGregory Besterman

The Wildlife of West Cork: 5 Wild Species That Will Make You Glad You Brought Your Binoculars

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

From the deep woodlands to the blustery shoreline, West Cork’s own little pocket of the world is always so full of life – rain or shine. In fact, one of West Cork’s best features always seems to be its ability to stay rugged and wild; even the well-trodden paths are walked by furry paws as often as they are muddy boots.

That’s not to say the area is without its creature comforts. Every intrepid explorer needs a roaring fire to draw up next to at the end of the day, after all – and, if you’re looking for a luxury holiday rental in Cork, we happen to know just the place.

Below, we look at some of our favourite furry and feathered wildlife that call West Cork home – many of which you’ll spot in and around Gortadrohid, provided you remember your hiking boots (and a keen eye).

1. The Grey Atlantic and Harbour Seals

These two species can be seen all over West Cork’s shorelines. While they’re a little shy when it comes to being approached, you’ll have very little trouble spotting them as they contentedly lounge around on the rocks, watching the tides roll in and out.

Around September time, you may even spot a few Grey Atlantic seal pups with the adults, as this tends to be the time they’re born. The pups are snow white and covered in a fine, downy fur, while their parents are a lot darker. This is when seals tend to congregate in large groups, but these will disperse into smaller hunting groups after the breeding season.

The males are larger – sometimes twice the size of females. It’s always best to keep a respectful distance from the seals; you can observe them from land, or from one of the tour boats that pass through the West Cork area each day – just one of the many things to do in West Cork.

2. The Short-Beaked and Bottlenose Dolphins

The waters around West Cork are busy places to be, and you’ll never have to wait long before you start to spot signs of life just beneath the surface – or just above.

The dolphins native to the area are generally very sociable, and plenty of tour boats have experienced the incredible sight of a group performing their acrobatics alongside the hull. It can take a keen eye to distinguish between the bottlenose and the short-beaked dolphin (also known as the ‘common’ dolphin). The most significant difference is found on their underbelly, which tends to be a creamy yellow colour in short-beaked dolphins.

West Cork plays host to other oceanic dolphin species throughout the year, including the Risso’s dolphin and the long-finned pilot whale, which looks a little like a cross between a bottlenose and a beluga.

At times, you might be lucky enough to spot a group of dolphins from the shoreline – although distinguishing their grey dorsal fins from West Cork’s choppy tides can be tricky, even for locals. From a boat, you’ll be able to get much closer and experience the salty spray as they leap above and below the waterline.

3. The Eurasian (Common) Otter

Back on land, but not quite dry, you may just lay eyes on one of Ireland’s cutest species: the common otter. West Cork’s many damp, well-sheltered areas in the woodland and along the coastline are a popular haunt for these shy little mammals, who can often be seen emerging from heavier brush as they slip gracefully into the water to fish. They are highly skilled hunters – and, while primarily interested in fish, can take down animals much larger than they are.

Otters are well-loved by locals, since their presence is a great indicator of a healthy, clean water table.

These creatures are quick to disperse at the sound of humans, so be prepared to enjoy watching them from afar – ideally through a pair of binoculars.

4. The Razorbill (Lesser Auk)

There are so many fascinating seabirds to be spotted along West Cork’s many miles of shoreline that it was hard to pick just one for this list, but we’ve got to hand it to the razorbill – a fascinating black and white hunter that can be seen streaking between the rocky cliffs and the open water, where it dives down beneath the waves and swings to catch its dinner.

The Greater Auk is now sadly extinct, but we can still see echoes of its penguin-like markings in the razorbill.

You’ll get your best view of the razorbill from offshore, where you might just be able to distinguish it by its snow-white belly.

Razorbills mate for life, and both keep close guard over their nest. The cliffs provide excellent protection from predators, along with the rougher elements of West Cork’s weather.

5. The Eurasian Jay

Back on dry land, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for a chance to spot the beautifully coloured Eurasian Jay streaking between the trees, with a peachy-coloured body and a streak of bright blue on its upper wing.

Like many jays, this species is a very effective mimic, so tracking it down by the sound of its call alone can be hard, even for experienced bird watchers. They tend to be easier to spot during the Autumn months, as that is the time they’re at their busiest, collecting acorns and seeds to see them through the wintertime.

For a chance to see one, find a small clearing in the woods, get into a comfy position, and wait a few minutes – you might just see one darting from tree to tree.

There are so many incredible animals to spot in West Cork. From whales and basking sharks to a long list of seabirds – and a few familiar favourites like the badger, red fox, and deer – you could fill an entire holiday with nothing but wildlife sightings. Even from the garden and grounds surrounding Gortadrohid, many of our guests report exciting encounters and sightings of some of West Cork’s cuter inhabitants.

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