For the last number of months my friend and I have been participating in one of Ireland’s largest bird surveys. The I-WeBS (Irish Wetland Bird Survey) survey is carried out over the winter months in an attempt to monitor wintering populations of shorebirds in Ireland.While I am very competent in recognising garden and woodland birds throughout the year, I am a complete novice when it comes to shore birds and waders. With this in mind, I offered to help out my friend in return for her expertise and knowledge.
About two weeks ago we went to her counting patch and visited a number of locations in our quest for shore birds. We were not disappointed – In one spot we counted 56 curlew on the shore! For those of you who are wondering why I might be getting excited about seeing a curlew, I will explain.
Curlews were once a very common bird here in Ireland. They were a familiar sight along Ireland’s coasts and estuaries. However, their numbers have been declining steadily for the last twenty years or so, and it is estimated that the population has declined from 5,000 breeding pairs to approximately 200 breeding pairs…a staggering 96% decline!
The reasons for this decline are thought to be caused by changes in agricultural practices. When breeding, the curlew nests in the uplands in open pastures with soft ground and tussock grass. However intensive drainage of peat land, burning of scrub and commercial afforestation has led to a reduction of this habitat, and having a catastrophic effect on the Irish breeding population.
This species is iconic of the Irish countryside, and many people have come to associate their call as synonymous with the wild places of Ireland. However, their numbers are not just declining in Ireland, but across European and Asian range also. BirdWatch Ireland, the country’s primary bird conservation group is actively fundraising in an effort to stem the decline in the Irish population, using funds for research and habitat conservation. They have a donations page here if anybody would like to donate to this very important work.