The absence of the distinctive call of the curlew in our rural landscape is concerning. Ireland’s native breeding curlew has declined by 96% in the past 30 years, one of the most drastic declines of any bird species across the entire European Union.
The biggest threats to curlew at a local level are changes in land use (eg, afforestation and intensification of agriculture), extreme pressure from predators of curlew eggs and chicks (mostly foxes, grey crows and mink) and failed environmental policy.
Curlew will begin to breed and nest from April 1 until the end of the summer. You may see curlew feeding in rough damp pastures as the adult birds use their distinctive long bills to forage the ground for worms and other invertebrates. Curlew may also be heard flying overhead, usually in pairs at this time of year.
Laois and Kildare is one of nine regions nationwide where the Curlew Conservation Programme (CCP) is in place. This programme is funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage as well as the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The main aim of this project is to protect the remaining breeding curlew population (approx. 150 pairs in Ireland).
Within Laois and Kildare, there is a small team to help support breeding curlew through one-to-one engagement with local people, especially farmers, who are key to achieving success. Practical management work is also being carried out for the species in the form of nest protection or predator control.
This not only benefits the curlew, but a wide range of other sensitive ground nesting birds such as the hardy red grouse, iconic hen harrier and bog bleating snipe. Local sheep farmers in our project areas are also hugely grateful for this work as it protects their livestock, notably lambs, from damage by foxes.
Local farmers, landowners and walkers can be a huge help in facilitating access to confirmed/potential curlew breeding sites, providing local advice and reports of sightings and undertaking essential land management options to help save our precious curlew.
If you would like to let the local project team in Laois/Kildare know of any curlew sightings during the spring and summer, get involved with the project or engage in habitat improvement works, please get in touch by emailing agri.Ecology@chg.gov.ie.
David O’Brien is a curlew advisory officer, at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
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