EUGENE DALY continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs
I have written about the curlew on a few occasions for Ireland’s Own. I feel I have to write about this iconic Irish bird again and this time with great sorrow as it appears almost certain that very soon the curlew will be gone.
Back in the 1980s the eminent bird expert Clive Hutchinson wrote of the curlew ‘that it was widespread in Ireland at most times of the year.’ However, recent reports indicate a serious decline of this unusual, eccentric and shy coastal bird which nature fashioned to inhabit salt marshes and tidal inlets with its long legs for wading and incredible curved beak for probing deeply for food.
As a youth in the 1950s there used to be flocks of curlews along the shoreline of our small farm by the estuary of the Ilen River. The unique evening cry of the curlew was a time clock sound – such as the call of the rooster in the morning – that the outdoor working day was over.
High overhead, the birds were heading for night on offshore islands and wild scrubland. The lonesome cries indicated that darkness would soon fall and that it was time for us to go home.
Several reasons have been suggested for the fall in this species population (estimated at 5,000 pairs in 1991). It is estimated that only 150 breeding pairs or less are left now in Ireland but I heard a report on the radio recently that the number is only twenty five breeding pairs this year. The numbers increase in winter when we get an influx of migrant birds from Britain and the Continent.