Saturday, April 21 was the World Curlew Day. Why does this bird need its own festive day?
Curlew is one of the iconic species of birds native to Ireland. While talking to the elderly farmers, you can hear numerous stories of how they associated the Curlew call with long summer days.
But there are few farmers in their 30s who heard the call or know what a Curlew is. And the existence of the Curlew depends very much on farmers.
The Curlew population is declining at an alarming rate. The birds can be seen in reasonable numbers during winter, when they are supplemented by their relatives from Scotland and Scandinavia.
But the breeding season, when they look for mates, nest and sing their song, is a totally different story.
The number of breeding pairs in Ireland has declined by 96% since the 1980s and it is now estimated to be not more than 200 pairs in the whole country.
If nothing changes, breeding Curlew may disappear from the Irish landscape in 10 years.
Why is it happening?
There are several reasons, all of them related to each other and not easy to solve.
Agricultural intensification changed the landscape; and improved grassland supports much fewer invertebrates which are main source of food for curlew. Land abandonment led to encroachment of shrubs, which are avoided by nesting Curlews. Many birds would nest in the bogs, which are disappearing.
One of the very last places in Ireland, where Curlew still breeds is Lough Ree.
The birds still hold to the islands, where they are partially protected from disturbance and land predators; and the grassland is not improved, offering lots of insects and worms for chicks.
So what is being done to stop this crisis?
A Curlew Task Force, set up by Minister Heather Humphreys TD, was established in February 2017. As part of this, National Parks & Wildlife Service designed and financed the Curlew Conservation Programme the same year. It focuses on 7 core Curlew breeding areas around the country, Lough Ree being one of them.
A team of four people are working locally undertaking field surveys, working with landowners to protect nests from predators and to carry out some habitat enhancement (scrub removal).
The Lough Ree Curlew Action Team had a great success last year, when 8 chicks survived (this shows how bad the situation is…) and hopes that this season will bring even better news.
The survival of Curlew is possible only if the local community takes pride in sharing the landscape with this rare bird.
The Programme is possible only thanks to the landowners who cooperate with the Curlew Action Team by granting them access to their lands. It is crucial to know as much as possible about our birds, therefore the Team welcomes all information from the public on Curlews seen in the Spring and Summer time.
Local Curlew Champion, Goska Wilkowska, can be contacted at 086 895 7258 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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