‘Why do Curlews deserve their own World Day? I heard someone ask. I, in turn, asked the same question, but not for the same reasons. In this person’s case it was because they were unaware of the plight of the Curlews, in my case it was more about wondering how we let this happen.
If your name includes the word Curlew (unless you are a Curlew sandpiper or Stone-Curlew in this case) it is likely that you and your kind are under some sort of pressure simply to survive. Other members of the same family, the genus Numenius, called Whimbrel are in much better shape, and it was this that prompted us to title our talk about the World’s Curlews ‘New Moon on the Wane: The Curse of the Curlews’.
Of the 9 taxa in the genus, 7 are known as species of Curlew, of those two are Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List and in all likelihood Extinct (Eskimo and Slender-billed Curlews), one is Endangered (Far Eastern Curlew), one is Vulnerable (Bristle-thighed Curlew), one is Near Threatened (Eurasian Curlew) and two are of Least Concern (Long-billed and Little Curlews). Of the last two, despite being of Least Concern, the Long-billed Curlew’s range is retreating west, they have disappeared from vast areas of central North America and continue to decline. Both Whimbrel species, Eurasian and Hudsonian are of Least Concern although some populations and subspecies, such as the Steppe Whimbrel are struggling to keep a foothold on the planet.
The Little Curlew is stable, so bucks the trend, but I fear for its future. Is it that it is going to go the same way as the others? Many years back everyone I know referred to this species as Little Whimbrel, not Curlew. Now the name Curlew it is universally accepted, will it too fall foul of the curse of the Curlews?
So there in a nutshell is why Curlews deserve their own day in the headlines, to raise awareness about how dire their situation really is, and to debunk the attitude that just because we see loads of them on the UK coasts in winter, this does not mean we don’t have to worry. UK Breeding pairs are few and far between these days, and we seriously need to reverse this decline or lose them completely.
Why is this happening? To answer my own question. All of these declines are brought about by human actions causing a lack of breeding success, whether that action is on the breeding grounds or not.
Eskimo Curlews were shot in huge numbers and their stop over points destroyed, Slender-billed Curlews were fewer in number and have no doubt suffered from hunting over the decade and their breeding grounds have been altered beyond recognition. Far Eastern Curlews are suffering because of stop over habitat destruction, particularly in the Yellow Sea region. It has been shown that loss of habitat doesn’t make birds move somewhere else, there is nowhere to go, they simply die or become so out of condition that they cannot migrate. The Bristle-thighed Curlew population is small and all of them winter on Pacific Islands where introduced predators, disturbance and habitat loss are all adding pressure to the already small population. Our own Eurasian Curlew is losing breeding grounds; peat bogs, hay meadows and lowland wetlands all being destroyed, the replacement being unsuitable or unsustainable for the birds.
So having a World Curlew Day gives us a moment to think about what we are doing to these creatures and many other waders in the same situation, and we have to decide. Do we want Curlews to survive? If the answer is yes, then today is the day to start doing something to change things, not tomorrow, nor next week or sometime in the future, it is today, before it is too late.
Should you wish to hear more about the Curlews of the world, then why not book a talk ‘New Moon on the Wane: The Curse of the Curlews’ from Rick and Elis Simpson by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for details