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Monday, 27 July 2015

Low point for breeding Curlews in Kerry

Anyone birding along the coast at this time of year will see plenty of Curlew. Chances are though, they are Scottish- or Scandinavian-born birds, perhaps even Russian, failed breeders, or first summer birds not yet ready to return north to breed. Take a trip inland to find nesting birds in Kerry in early summer and it's a very different story.

Two Curlews, over potential nesting habitat, Stack's Mountains, May 2015. They presumably failed, as they were not seen again at this site in subsequent visits (M.O'Clery).

There is an ongoing national survey of nesting Curlew in Ireland, organised by BirdWatch Ireland, and, with 2015 fieldwork complete in Kerry, it looks like our worst fears are confirmed.

From just 8-9 potential breeding pairs found during early survey work in May, mainly in the species' stronghold in the Stacks' Mountains, only three were confirmed to have raised young. For a formerly widespread and common breeding species to suffer such a decline is yet another indicator of the decline in our biodiversity. The Curlew looks set to be lost to Kerry as a breeding bird, along with other ground-nesting waders we have already lost, such as Redshank, Dunlin and Lapwing.

Curlew, on the coast, near Castlegregory (M.O'Clery).

The causes are yet to be fully determined, but observations from the Kerry survey this year show that the successful pairs were on the few remaining large areas of intact, flat, wet bog. That so few suitable nesting areas now remain in Kerry is due to a combination of turf-cutting, forestry and wind farms. These factors combine to dry out bogs, encourage predators of Curlew chicks, such as Hooded Crows and Ravens, and allow more human access and intrusion into previously largely undisturbed areas of bog. Most large bogs in the Stack's are now fragmented and unsuitable for nesting Curlew, hemmed in by vast swathes of coniferous forest and wind farms. Hopefully, with all the survey results analysed, the local factors and the overall national picture will reveal some way that our nesting Curlews can be saved.

For more information, have a look at the BirdWatch Ireland website Curlew Appeal HERE