Breeding curlews are in catastrophic decline

Sun, 2020-08-23 11:15

Do you have a favourite wader?  I love them all, but I especially love curlews.  They have a magic all of their own with a call that echoes across the landscape. Curlews were once so common, but now are in catastrophic decline. 

Earlier this Spring, one of our curlew volunteers wrote: 

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"I have been spending time watching the curlews in the valley below my house with a telescope loaned by Morecambe Bay Partnership. I have been connected with a loose grouping of interested people, led by the Morecambe Bay Partnership.  The good news is, we have several pairs of curlews, and I am pleased to report that I have spotted two nests. They are currently sitting.

Unfortunately, curlews are having a really difficult time. They live for up to 30 years but almost all of their nests fail. They have various nesting problems including predators (foxes, badgers and crows), and nesting in silage fields. So, when the current birds are finished, we are likely to have no curlews left. 

There are no easy solutions but one thing tried successfully in Shropshire and Wales is an electric fence around the curlew nests to protect against ground predators. Last year, I found a nest, but it was predated and the eggs smashed before the fence could be erected.  Morecambe Bay Partnership have ornithologists who oversee the fencing and coordinate work for the best success.

The owner of the land has very kindly given his permission to me to fence the nests, and agreed not to cut sileage immediately nearby.  So now we are watching these two fenced nests.  We had a scare midweek when we though the southern nest was empty, but the birds were just lying low.  Both nests are good for now.  We're counting down to hatching day." 

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The local community have been fantastic, contributing to pay for this pair of fences, which at over £500 for a pair are not cheap.

Right now, we are in the middle of the curlew-nesting season.  In total we have fenced 4 nests to protect them from predators and from being lost to silage cutting.

Sadly, we know of at least 3 pairs of curlews that have lost nests.  

Curlews will try again, making a new nest nearby and laying another clutch.  We urgently need to identify their new nest sites. But curlews are secretive and although we have trained volunteers with telescopes it is really hard and takes great patience to find a nest.  And there is a real danger that carelessness can scare birds so a nest is abandoned.

So the biggest problem facing our curlews is the loss of nests, and one of biggest problem facing us is finding their nests. We hope to trial high tech solutions, but these can be hugely costly - over £2,000. 

If you can help save our local curlews, we’d be so grateful.

The curlew's call is so evocative, so hauntingly beautiful. Yet it will fall silent unless we act now. If a fenced nest is successful, one or more of the fledged chicks could return and then attempt to breed for 20 or even 30 years. If we do not act they are in real danger of going extinct in 10 years. 

 It’s a crucial test for humankind – can we save what we love.

Birds are really alert on the nests and stay awake when they are sitting, even at night.  Both male and female sit on the nests.  The females are much larger than the males.

Text by Susannah.  Images from Shrophire curlew cam and Rob Fraser. Network support from Martin Wain and Tonia Armer via the Morecambe Bay Facilitation Fund.

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