World Curlew Day
I took to myself as pleasure,
the gannet’s noise and
the voice of the curlew
instead of the laughter of men,
the screaming gull
instead of the drinking of mead.
With World Curlew Day falling on Easter Sunday (21st April 2019) it’s a shame chocolate curlew eggs don’t seem to be available! Though, with curlew populations struggling around the globe, perhaps we shouldn’t joke about eating their eggs.
The curlew genus name, Numenuis, is thought to derive from a combination of Greek ‘neos’ (new) and ‘mene’ (moon) for its unique crescent-shaped beak. Their beaks are used to probe the mud and soil for invertebrates and with sensitive tips they can feel out anything hiding in the sediment. There are eight species within the curlew genus, many populations of which are struggling.
Eurasian curlew (N. arquata) is further named for its beak, with arquata stemming from the Latin for bow. Eurasian curlews’ annual migration varies considerably, but those in the UK often winter on the coast and move to breeding grounds of wetlands and agricultural land in the spring. Some travel across Europe and can arrive from wintering grounds in Tunisia. Curlews are monogamous and both sexes contribute to incubation. Some evidence suggests that Eurasian curlews occasionally show preference for nesting sites near kestrel’s nests. This is thought to be because the kestrels offer protection from other predators, such as crows and magpies, despite kestrels also predating curlew nests.
A quarter of Eurasian curlews are resident to the UK and Ireland. Here they have suffered severe population declines and are one of the UK’s most threatened birds. Up until 1942 curlews were available to buy from British butchers and commonly cooked in pies in Cornwall. The historic inclusion on the British dinner table will not have helped the curlews’ survival!
Far Eastern curlews (N. madagascariensis) in Australia have suffered an even worse decline than their Eurasian cousins, with numbers having dropped 80 percent in the past 30 years and the species being classed as endangered.
Eskimo curlew (N. borealis), also known as the doughbird due to its perceived plumpness during its early migration, was once one of the most abundant birds in North America. The species is now considered critically endangered (possibly extinct).
With curlew species suffering globally it is essential that a marked effort is made to prevent these enigmatic species from being lost altogether. Nowadays the main problem faced by curlews in the UK is a result of changing land management practices. Reforestation, changes to predator control, intensification of agriculture are all stacking up against the curlew population.
In the UK numerous collaborative initiatives are in place and being developed by land managers and environmental NGOs. Working for Waders is helping to facilitate wader conservation with across Scotland. The initiative is also developing guidance for farmers and land managers to help them conserve and improve wader habitat. For further information on how you can get involved visit workingforwaders.com