Donegal Curlew in “crisis” of extinction

The once familiar cry of the Curlew in Donegal’s bog and moorlands could be a thing of the past as numbers of the birds have fallen dramatically in recent years.

The once familiar cry of the Curlew in Donegal’s bog and moorlands could be a thing of the past as numbers of the birds have fallen dramatically in recent years.

It was estimated just two decades ago that there was up to 5,000 Curlew in Ireland, but a special survey just completed by Birdwatch Ireland’s Letterkenny office shows that the county, which had been a popular breeding ground for the birds, now has just four pairs.

Change in habitats use, including the introduction of wind farms and increased forestry is cited among the reasons for the rapid decline, but Birdwatch Ireland’s Dr Anita Donaghy says they are seeking the public’s help to help identify more of the nesting birds in the region.

Dr Donaghy stated: “We have counted a really, really low number of them and we think they are on the verge of extinction in the county. They are a ground nesting bird in open moorland so their habitat is a bit different to that of the Corncrake. We are trying to get people more aware of them and we would love to get more reports in.”

She explained: “We have only found four pairs altogether in the county. They are present in Ireland all around but we actually get migrants in to Ireland from colder more northerly countries, to take advantage of the mild winters and our own resident population will move off the hills towards the coast in the winter and when the migrant birds move back to their own countries in Scandinavia or other parts of northern Europe, our resident population will move back to the uplands, which is their nesting habitat.

Due to the decline in number of both Curlew and Corncrakes, Birdwatch Ireland established a Letterkenny office which is staffed by Dr Donaghy, who is originally from Belfast and Buncrana man, Daniel Maloney.

Speaking of the county as a wild bird sanctuary, she said: “Donegal is a great county for wildlife and birds in particular. There is a lot of things happening here and it was just important for us to have a presence here. Its brilliant and we can do a lot more, get involved in more projects and try and get things off the ground. There is an awful lot to very important species nesting in Donegal. Its a great county for that.”

She says it is clear now the bird numbers are in “crisis”.

“We have known for a while that the population has been in decline but we didn’t realise how bad it was. Previous estimates would have been in the range of 4,000 to 5,000 25-years-ago, but now we think there is less than a couple of hundred pairs in the whole country. This is the first time we have gone out and done a proper survey specifically for Curlew and if the results from Donegal are indicative of what’s happening in the rest of the country then they are in a very serious situation,”

Regular hill walkers or farmers have been asked to keep and eye out for any of the impressive wild birds and report any sightings to their office.

They started the survey in breeding season of April through to July, so they are just finished it.

“We have just got the results back and know the numbers in Donegal are very low. There has been a similar survey in Mayo and they have found the same situation so we know it is not a one-off in Donegal”.

Birdwatch Ireland Letterkenny office can be contacted on (074) 9129905.