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What’s big, brown and bobs about in the Humber estuary?

12:24 pm, Thursday, 20th April 2023 - 1 year ago


It’s the largest wading bird in Europe. Their long legs and curvy beaks are perfect for finding food in our thick estuary mud. They love the coastline around Cleethorpes, Grimsby and Immingham. Give it up for the curlew this World Curlew Day!

Friday 21 April is World Curlew Day, a day to shout about and celebrate one of our most inspirational wading birds.

A tall wader, curlew arrive along our coastline form July onwards with their numbers peaking in January. A group of curlews is called a curfew, a salon or a skein. You can often spot them on football pitches along our coastline, looking for food in the torn-up turf.

Their ‘cur-lee’ call is distinctive along with their long down curved bill that has a flash of pink underneath. They use this curvy bill to eat worms, shellfish and shrimps from the mud flat.  Due to their eating habits, female curlews have a longer bill than the males.

The Eurasian Curlew was once a common sight across the UK, but their numbers have drastically declined over the last 40 years. On average, we have lost 60 per cent of the curlew population in England and Scotland since 1980. They are now a red list species with only 58,500 breeding pairs in the UK.

Once Curlews make it to adulthood, they are very hardy birds but many don’t survive to fledging age. This is due to changing landscapes, habitat loss, recreational disturbance, climate change and natural predators. Curlews take 90 days to nest successfully, they need a variety of tall and short vegetation to provide cover and food.

Loss or change of habitat has been a major factor in the species decline. Mitigation sites like Novartis Ings provide a safe habitat for curlews and other birds to rest and feed. Curlews are one of the species for which the Humber Estuary has been classed as an internationally important habitat and is protected in law.

Why is World Curlew Day on 21 April? St Beuno is the patron saint of curlews and his feast day is 21 April. Legend has it that the Seventh Century saint was sailing off the coast of Wales and dropped his prayer book into the water. A curlew is said to have scooped it up and brought it to safety.

Want to know more?

A curlew
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