The Curlew Birds In Danger Of Extinction

The curlew birds, majorly found in the UK, are facing threats that put them in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. The numbers have significantly reduced over the years due to attacks on their habitat. Both stone curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) and bush stone curlews (Burhinus grallarius) are in danger of extinction. The stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) is a rare ground-dwelling bird mainly found on the countryside in Eastern and Southern England. These birds are known as ‘thick knees’ due to their heavy-looking legs. They are about 40 cm tall and have long tails with a white bar that runs across the folded wing. The eyes of the stone curlews are their most prominent character. They have a puffy white bag underneath and conspicuous white eyebrow above.

The bush stone curlew remains endangered and vulnerable despite numerous recovery initiatives. In 2012, the number of recovered birds was 290. However, the numbers are reducing drastically due to threats presented in their natural habitats. In 2018, the number of breeding pairs went down by 30 percent from the 290 conserved. This worrying trend was a major setback to the numerous efforts put forth by conservation management projects to conserve the birds.

Bush stone curlew (Burhinus grallarius) is a large and nocturnal bird mainly found in Australia. They are about 55 cm tall and have large yellow eyes and grey backs that have black spots. Its underparts are white and light-brown with a black line that runs from its eyes to its neck.

Common Characteristics of Stone and Bush Stone Curlews

The curlews feed on insects, spiders and small animals like frogs, lizards, snakes and mice. They mainly hunt at night individually and sometimes in pairs. Curlews nest on the ground which is a suitable habitat for the chicks because they feed themselves. The first eggs hatch in early spring and the mother guides the chicks towards food instead of feeding them. The chicks, therefore, have to learn to survive.

When under threat, the curlews freeze in odd postures that scare enemies such as humans and raptors. Unfortunately, foxes attack the birds since they hunt by scent and the postures don’t threaten their hunts. At times they are forced to flee to safety using their long broad wings.

Why Are the Curlews Endangered

Unsuitable agricultural practices that lead to large scale destruction of steppe lands has disrupted the breeding ground and shelters for curlews. Once the land is cultivated to accommodate grain farming, the curlews are left with grasslands which are unsuitable for them. This destruction further destroys environments for insects and other small animals that curlews depend on for food. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Eastern England stone curlew project manager, Tim Cowan, said the bird’s population declined significantly due to extreme cold weather experienced in 2013. When the birds arrived from migration, they found unfavorable weather and most died during that period. The population failed to bounce back from the tragedy.

Fox predation is the major factor contributing to the reduction of bush stone curlews. This factor, however, leaves room for uncertainties because the population of curlews is high in some areas where foxes are common. The natural habitat for curlews is destroyed when land is modified for planting exotic grass used for grazing. Cattle trample on the curlew eggs during grazing and contribute to the decline of the already endangered birds. Frequent fires through burning remove the ground cover and leave barren zones that force the birds to migrate to open areas that threaten their survival.

Conservation and Management of Curlews

Landowners are encouraged to improve on habitat retention by leaving fallen branches that act as safe habitats for curlews to help breeding. The birds can camouflage from predators in such environments. Grass height should be maintained to about 15cm through pulse grazing methods that should only be done when curlews are not breeding to avoid the destruction of eggs. Predator control measures should be encouraged before and during the breeding season from August to January. This will stop the predators from hunting curlews that breed to increase their much-needed population.

Projects such as the Wessex Farmland Project have been in the frontline to help curb the decline of stone curlew birds for 30 years. The project’s main approach is to provide uncultivated pieces of land for the breeding of curlews and other endangered species. The Wessex Farmland project also protects chicks from farming operations during planting of spring crops. The project involves the farmers with the relocation of the vulnerable chicks to safe environments away from tractors and predators. The Kowree Farm Tree group recovery project works towards the protection of the remaining bush stone curlews by developing a practical approach for captive breeding and release of the birds to their natural habitat. The project also engages with the local community to conserve the grasslands and woodlands to encourage the breeding of curlews.

14 May 2021
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