The Curlew situation is worse than we thought

Last year I wrote about the addition of the Curlew to the list of species which are globally threatened. This month, BirdWatch Ireland has released preliminary findings which show the situation in Ireland is worse than we realised. Dr. Anita Donaghy has commenced a special project on Curlews breeding in the border region.

Last year I wrote about the addition of the Curlew to the list of species which are globally threatened. This month, BirdWatch Ireland has released preliminary findings which show the situation in Ireland is worse than we realised. Dr. Anita Donaghy has commenced a special project on Curlews breeding in the border region.

During the last Breeding Atlas, in 1988-1991, Donegal and Mayo still held good numbers of breeding Curlew and the Irish population as a whole was estimated at around 5,000 pairs.  This spring, over 60 sites occupied by breeding Curlews during that Atlas were revisited and, shockingly the results indicated that only six still held breeding pairs.

A total of just four pairs were recorded in Donegal and four in Mayo.  This would indicate that there are likely to be less than 200 breeding pairs left in the whole country - a 96% decline in 20 years.

“The marginal upland areas where Curlews breed have been widely destroyed or fragmented by a range of land-use pressures”, she said.  “Afforestation, commercial peat-cutting and windfarm developments are all factors that have probably contributed to the decline.  As their habitat becomes more fragmented, Curlews also become more vulnerable to predation.”

The Curlew is in decline across most of its breeding range, from Ireland as far east as Lake Baikal in Russia. It is estimated that the population in Ireland declined by 86% between 1988-1991 and 2003. The population in the UK appears to have declined by 53% between 1970 and 2005. As a result of these widespread declines, Birdlife International has upgraded the Curlew to the status of Near-Threatened globally which puts the Curlew into the same category at the Corncrake.

The Curlew still breeds in very small numbers in Co. Tipperary. I took this photograph of a parent and chick in a wet meadow in Co. Monaghan in June 2011. It was good to see successful breeding but one chick is a very small brood. We get Curlews as winter visitors in Co. Tipperary where they frequent wet, marshy areas. They are more numerous in the very north of the county at the Little Brosna Callows.

You can help by making a donation to BirdWatch Ireland’s ‘Cry of the Curlew appeal’. You can donate securely online at www.birdwatchireland.ie or by phoning BirdWatch Ireland on 01-2819878.