Today (21st April) is World Curlew Day and many wildlife organisations and charities are celebrating this day and raising awareness of Curlews by holding events. You may be wondering why Curlews need their own awareness day when in some parts of the UK you can hear or see them daily. Well, the UK is actually home to more than a third of the west European curlew population, but this population has suffered major declines and is still declining. Breeding Bird Surveys have indicated that from 1995 and 2008 the breeding population of curlews in England, Scotland and Wales declined by 42%. Similar declines have been recorded in the number of breeding Curlews in Northern Ireland. Due to the significance of the declines of the Curlew in the UK it is listed as the UK’s most important bird conservation priority and ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. Here we are talking about the Eurasian Curlew (pictured below) also known as the Common Curlew (Numenius arquata), but there are in fact eight different species of Curlew, with two thought to now be extinct and another species, the Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis, classified as endangered.
Why have they declined?
There are many reasons why curlews have declined with the main contenders being degradation and reduction of suitable habitats, climate change and increased predation. An increase in afforestation in upland areas has degraded the moorland and semi-natural grassland where Curlews prefer to breed.
The BTO have also recognised that the decline in Curlew populations is more severe in warmer, and drier areas, which may present a reduced invertebrate population for them to feed on. This is likely to increase as climate change continues.
As Curlews are ground-nesting birds, they are very vulnerable to both aerial predators such as corvids and ground-hunting predators, such as foxes. Predator management is in place in some priority nesting sites, but this can be controversial and other avenues to offer protection may need to be explored.
What you can do to help
Golf courses can provide ideal habitats for curlews to nest and feed. If your golf course has open moorland, unimproved meadow or rough pasture habitat you may be lucky enough to get curlew nesting within the course. It is important to maintain habitats like this if possible, to encourage curlew and other ground nesting birds to inhabit your site. Out of play areas are ideal for this, where you can allow tussocks of grass to form or have areas of rough ground. If you find a Curlew nest on your golf course, ensure that it is not going to be disturbed and it is a good idea to rope off the area to prevent people or machinery from trampling the nest. Curlews nest from April to July so keep a look out around your golf course for the adults, or their eggs and chicks which are very well camouflaged.
Some golf clubs have already noted Curlews nesting in parts of their golf course, such as Colne Golf Club in Lancashire where a pair of Curlews nested during lockdown in 2020. The groundsmen were very attentive and respectful of this exciting find and roped off the nest to minimise disturbance. You can read more about the Curlews on Colne Golf Course here https://www.curlewcall.org/curlews-on-golf-courses/.
How to Identify a Curlew
Curlews can be easily identified by their size, bill and call. They are the largest wading bird in Europe reaching up to 60cm in height. As the name suggests they have a long, downward-curled bill, and Numenius from their Latin name translates as new-moon, also describing the shape of their bill. Their calls are very distinctive and can be described as soft, long whistle-like ‘quee-quee’ that get shorter and faster, and can be described as a ‘haunting’ sound. You may also hear their faster, sharper ‘cuuuuu-wee, cuuuuu-wee’ call too.
Happy World Curlew Day Everyone! Check out Curlew Action for World Curlew Day events. https://www.curlewaction.org/world-curlew-day/.
More information about Curlews can be found at https://www.bto.org/our-science/publications/peer-reviewed-papers/environmental-correlates-breeding-abundance-and#:~:text=Wader%20populations%20are%20declining%20worldwide,predation%2C%20and%20a%20changing%20climate.&text=Degradation%20of%20habitat%20is%20a,semi%2Dnatural%20grassland%20and%20moorland.