Curlew: Bird of the Week

The curlew is one of the most distinctive looking and sounding birds to see in the UK, but it is one species facing serious challenges.

By Kieren Puffett
photographs by RSPB Images
Published 7 May 2018, 10:59 BST

The curlew is instantly recognisable by its long legs, brown upperparts and downcurved bill, evolved for probing soft mud for shellfish, shrimps and tasty worms. The haunting sound of the curlew's display call ('Cur-lee') is unmistakeable.

Easily spotted at coastal sites during the winter, Europe’s largest wading bird feeds in groups on tidal mudflats, saltmarshes and nearby farmland. During the spring and summer, curlews migrate to their breeding grounds – mostly in upland areas – raising their chicks in areas of rough pasture, heather moorland and wetlands.

Now all is not well, however, in the world of the curlew, a bird whose family are facing global collapse. Of the world’s eight species of curlew, only three are considered to have a stable population. Two, the eskimo curlew and slender-billed curlew, are believed to be extinct.

Curlew Crisis

The curlew is facing a global collapse in its population with two species, the eskimo and slender-billed curlew, believed to be extinct already.
Photograph by RSPB Images

Even the species we see in the UK, the Eurasian curlew, is in serious trouble. Since the mid-1990s its breeding population here has halved.

The RSPB, along with other nature conservation agencies, believe the curlew should now be considered the UK’s highest conservation priority bird species and a recovery programme is urgently required. Curlew Crisis Month, is a series of special guided walks and events aimed at highlighting the problems facing curlews and build support for their conservation.

Even the species found in the UK, the eurasian curlew, has seen its breeding population halved since the mid-1990s.
Photograph by RSPB Images
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