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Curlews in the South Midlands - the Recovery Project


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Curlews in the UK are now usually associated with coastal and upland areas but it is not so long ago that they were a common sight (and sound) in most rural areas of the country coming inland to breed and returning to the coast for the autumn and winter months. The are a few curlews that return to my area of the south midlands and I have got involved in a project trying to aid their recovery. The main issues implicated in their spectacular decline are loss of habitat, changing farming practices (especially the move from hay cut in early summer to silage cut every six weeks from the start of spring) and predators. Eggs are often taken by badgers or foxes and chicks more frequently by avian predators especially buzzards - apparently the UK has a greater density of these threats than any other European country.


The project starts with locating the curlews (not too difficult if you listen for their lovely call) and then observing them pair up until it is clear that they have started nesting (more difficult as they typically flee as soon as they spot a human). To do tihs a number of volunteers walk the local countryside and note where the birds are seen, as they settle we use cars to observe them if lucky or get used to hiding in hedges if they are away from a road. Once the nest is established we put an electric fence around it to deter land predators. We are dependent on farmers for their permission to do this and also their willingness to delay cutting silage or grazing sheep in the nest area. Once chicks are born we need to remove the fence as they are mobile from a few days old and feed from the fields with their parents, the fields need to have grass of a decent length. This is the point when we cross our fingers.


In my immediate location we had two pairs that nested. One nest was lost to a predator before the eggs hatched (although the fence was intact) and the other after at least two chicks had hatched (we assume to avian predators). Another nest in the vicinity was flooded and the eggs became too cold as a result. One nest however made it to produce 4 chicks although one of the chicks has disappeared in the last week. It has been lovely to photograph adult birds in flight:



One adult uses a farm building to keep watch and is seen here calling to encourage the chicks to cross a farm track:



Yesterday I was extremely lucky to see some of the family at a water source. Initially there was juvenile walking across the mud:



Separately there was an adult that must of seen me but did not seem bothered enough to raise an alarm call:



The adult was keeping an eye out for a juvenile who spent some time drinking and bathing before wandering off into the grass to join the rest of the family who were well out of sight:






It's been hard work and disappointing that so many nests have failed. However the willingness of farmers to help has been encouraging and the occasionally intimate moments spent with these elusive birds has been a real treat.

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@pomkiwiA fascinating read. Thanks for the report.

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That is outstanding work that you and other are doing @pomkiwi!    

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Posted (edited)

Great job @pomkiwi. One success in 3 nestings is not a good odd, but efforts from you and the team and the willingness of some farmers provide a strong start for the curlews. Hope more farmers will become more open-minded about lending a hand to the endangered species.  

Edited by Kitsafari
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Great job indeed, and just goes to show how difficult it is for birds to successfully bring up their young. Don't think I've ever seen a photo of a Curlew chick. Great photos too.

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Excellent work. Thank you for telling us about it

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